Citizens! Billions of Muslims around the world are now past the halfway mark in celebrating the holy month of Ramadan – رمضان مبارك to all those currently fasting and observing the holy holiday! Given your hunger, I am grateful you have chosen to visit my humble food blog while you yourself are hungry – allow me to reward your piety and steadfastness with an easy recipe to help break your fast after sundown!
I would also very much like to dedicate this post and recipe to Khalid Al Ameri of the United Arab Emirates and his wife – their video blog on Facebook is one of my favorites and they are the most down-to-Earth, funny and genuine people you’ll ever meet. If you ever wanted to know the realities of Muslim life in Dubai and want a good laugh, do yourself a favor and follow them here!
For the uninitiated, Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting (sawm), prayer, reflection and community. A commemoration of the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad (Peace be upon Him), the annual observance of Ramadan is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam and lasts twenty-nine to thirty days, from one visual sighting of the crescent moon to the next.
The word Ramadan derives from the Arabic root ramiḍa or ar-ramaḍ (“scorching heat” or “dryness”). Fasting is fard (obligatory) for adult Muslims, except those who are ill, traveling, elderly, pregnant, breastfeeding, diabetic, chronically ill, or menstruating.
Although fatwas have been issued declaring that Muslims who live in regions with a midnight sun or polar night should follow the timetable of Mecca, the more commonly accepted opinion is that they should instead follow the timetable of the closest country to them in which night can be distinguished from day.
While fasting from dawn until sunset, believers refrain from food, drink, smoking, sexual relations, and sinful behavior that may negate the reward of fasting, striving to purify themselves and increase their taqwa (good deeds and God-consciousness).
The predawn meal is referred to as suhoor, while the nightly feasts to break the fast is called iftar. Spiritual rewards (thawab) for fasting are believed to be multiplied during the month of Ramadan, when believers devote themselves to salat (prayer), recitation of the Quran and the performance of charitable deeds.
Musabaha is beloved throughout the Middle East and if you think it looks like hummus – well, that’s because it IS hummus, but a special variant where the chickpeas are mostly served whole rather than mashed.
Musabaha is basically a deconstructed hummus, made from lashings of tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, garlic and of course chickpeas. The main difference is that it is served warm and the majority of the chickpeas are, as previously noted, left whole.
This is an ancient recipe – chickpea pastes flavored with cinnamon, ginger, parsley and olive oil are mentioned in medieval Arab cookbooks as early as the 13th century. Middle Eastern cuisine offers a number of interesting regional variations, one of which the Syrian-style hummus, musabaha.
Pickled turnips, fresh tomato, raw onion and fragrant mint, along with some good flatbread, are essential accompaniments to any proper musabaha.
Where does the name for this tasty hummus variant derive from? I can’t prove it, but etymologically speaking, it may come from the Arabic word misbaḥah (Arabic: مِسْبَحَة, romanized: misbaḥa), which is a string of beads often used by Muslims to keep track of counting in tasbih.
Like the rosary beads used in Christianity, a misbaḥah is a tool which is used as an aid to perform dhikr, including the names of God in Islam, and the glorification of God after regular prayer. It is often made of wooden or plastic beads, but also of semi-precious gemstones such as carnelian and onyx, olive seeds, ivory, amber, or pearls.
They usually consist of 99 beads to assist in the glorification of God following prayers: 33 Tasbeeh (subhāna-llāh ), 33 Tahmeed (ʾal-ḥamdu li-llāh), and 33 Takbeer (ʾAllāhu ʾakbar). Some suggest the 99 beads also refer to the 99 names of Allah. Smaller misbahas consist of 33 beads, in which case one cycles through them three times to complete 99. However, misbahas may also consist of 100 or 200 count beads to assist in the dhikr duties of certain Sufi orders. Musabahahs are also used culturally to reduce stress or as an indication of status in society.
Regardless of its origin, musabaha is truly delicious and worthy of making properly – don’t use canned chickpeas, use dried top-quality ones instead, only the best tahini and the freshest garnishes.
I’ve based my musabaha version very closely on one from the great blog Serious Eats. You can buy Aleppo pepper here, Turkish pickles here and pickled turnips here (or make my version here). Musabaha will be well worthy of gracing your table this Ramadan season, whether you are a fasting Muslim or not! 🙂
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