My glorious and unmatched Citizens! This evening marks the start of the holy month of Ramadan, a hugely-important holiday to those of the Islamic faith – so first things first:
For this particular post, I will be sharing a recipe that will be most compelling to my Muslim Citizens, as Ramadan involves a day-long fast every day for a month! As such, I will be sharing a healthy and filling recipe of distinction for breaking the fast and I shall NOT disappoint!
There are any number of classic recipes for the evening iftar meal that breaks the fast, but I am going to share one that SHOULD be a classic for this purpose: the renowned chickpea, meat and condiments-laden mélange from Tunisia known as lablebi! Before we get into the recipe, however – let’s briefly discuss Ramadan for those unfamiliar with its meaning and customs.
Ramadan (Arabic: رَمَضَان, romanized: Ramaḍān) 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 Prophet’s first revelation (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 sighting of the crescent moon to the next.
Fasting from sunrise to sunset is fard (obligatory) for all adult Muslims who are not acutely or chronically ill, traveling, elderly, breastfeeding, diabetic, or menstruating. The predawn meal is referred to as suhur, and the nightly feast that breaks the fast is called iftar. Although fatwas (religious edicts) have been issued declaring that Muslims who live in regions with a midnight sun or polar night should follow the timetable of Mecca, it is common practice to follow the timetable of the closest country in which night can be distinguished from day.
The spiritual rewards (thawab) of fasting are believed to be multiplied during Ramadan. Accordingly, Muslims refrain not only from food and drink, but also tobacco products, sexual relations, and sinful behavior, devoting themselves instead to salat (prayer) and recitation of the Quran. The word Ramadan derives from the Arabic root R-M-Ḍ (ر-م-ض) “scorching heat”, which is the Classical Arabic verb “ramidha (رَمِضَ)” meaning “become intensely hot – become burning; become scorching; be blazing; be glowing”.
In the Persian language, the Arabic letter ض (Ḍād) is pronounced as /z/. The Muslim communities in some countries with historical Persian influence, such as Azerbaijan, Iran, India, Pakistan and Turkey, use the word Ramazan or Ramzan. The word Romzan is used in Bangladesh.
The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Quran; a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (of right and wrong). “And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful.”[Quran 2:185]
Muslims hold that all scripture was revealed during Ramadan, the scrolls of Abraham, Torah, Psalms, Gospel, and Quran having been handed down on the first, sixth, twelfth, thirteenth (in some sources, eighteenth) and twenty-fourth Ramadans, respectively. Muhammed (Peace Be Upon Him) is said to have received His first quranic revelation on Laylat al-Qadr, one of five odd-numbered nights that fall during the last ten days of Ramadan.
Although Muslims were first commanded to fast in the second year of Hijra (624 CE), they believe that the practice of fasting is not in fact an innovation of monotheism, but rather has always been necessary for believers to attain taqwa (the fear of God). [Quran 2:183] They point to the fact that the pre-Islamic pagans of Mecca fasted on the tenth day of Muharram to expiate sin and avoid drought.
Philip Jenkins argues that the observance of Ramadan fasting grew out of “the strict Lenten discipline of the Syrian Churches,” a postulation corroborated by other scholars, including theologian Paul-Gordon Chandler, but disputed by some Muslim academics.
Now that you understand the importance of the holy month of Ramadan, we can launch into the history and recipe for lablebi!
Lablebi (Arabic: لبلابي) is a Tunisian dish based on chickpeas in a thin garlic and cumin-flavored broth, served over small pieces of stale crusty bread. It is commonly eaten in inexpensive restaurants. Raw or soft-cooked egg is nearly always added to the hot soup mix (thus cooking), along with olive oil, harissa, additional cumin, capers, tuna, Baklouti pepper and sometimes olives, garlic and vinegar or lemon or lime juice.
Further garnishes may include cilantro (coriander), parsley and scallions. A traditional, but rarer, version, hergma, is made with cows’ trotters. It is said that Lablebi was created during a war in Tunisia in which they needed to feed soldiers and citizens a balanced meal with inexpensive and shelf-stable ingredients.
The combination of soup, carbohydrates, healthy fats from olive oil and protein plus the hot spices really makes for a complete, healthful and tasty dish after fasting for 12 hours straight, which is one reason why I highly recommend lablebi as an ideal iftar dish for Ramadan! My recipe incorporates elements from recipes by the inestimable Paula Wolfert (the Doyenne of North African cooking), a recipe from La Boîte and of course the unique touches only made possible by the unmatched majesty of My culinary genius!
I have heard tell that the name ‘lablebi’ is a homonym for the sound of a bellowing ram, and that a good lablebi really needs to have strong spices to elicit that reaction. Spicy Tunisian harissa paste is the key to the spice level – while you can certainly just use a good commercial brand, My version is transcendent and WAY better than anything you’ve ever tried before, so try and use it if you can!
Thankfully, you can adjust the heat level to your liking – Mine has spice, but is by no means deadly-hot, so never fear! I also call for using a rich beef stock in lablebi to add to the nutritional value for Ramadan – most recipes just use water.
I also add a controversial ingredient to My special Ramadan lablebi to ensure ‘moreish’ eating – and that ingredient is MSG to add some umami to the broth. If you have any issues with My choice, just omit it but MSG in small amounts is not the demon ingredient it’s been made out to be – try it and draw your own conclusions (I’m sure you’ll agree with Me).
Tunisia has a renowned fishing industry, so it is no surprise that tuna plays an important part in this dish – and this is by far my preferred choice for top-quality tuna in olive oil (the only kind you should use in this recipe!). As with all North African and middle eastern recipes, please only use dried chickpeas, not canned – soaking them overnight in water with a bit of baking soda makes them tender and delicious, and the indigestible skins slip right off (discard them).
I prefer to use wild cumin (also known as sajira) which adds a truly inestimable savor to My recipe – thankfully, this exceptional spice vendor carries them here. North African preserved lemon rind adds tart acidity and is a must to use – this is my preferred brand. I also like to use nutty argan oil from North Africa to fry the onions – you can just use olive oil if you prefer but if you (like the Autarch of Authenticity Himself) prefer to use only the proper choice, you can buy culinary-grade argan oil from here.
To all Muslim Citizens of TFD Nation – enjoy a blessed and healthful Ramadan, perhaps enjoying My lablebi with these delicious and perfumed fritters of the Caliph for dessert!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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