Recipes for Ramadan started in response to the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020. It shares recipes and family stories dating back to the history of Australian Muslim families, to share the kind of conversations you might have if you were invited to iftar.
These recipes and stories celebrate diverse cultures and heritages and dive into complex stories that inevitably feed into our shared Australian history.
Iftar is the name given to breaking the daily fast when Muslims around the world seek out a date… or three, following the example of the Prophet Muhammad who broke his fast with three ripe dates and water before prayer.
Ramadan 2023 begins when the new moon is seen over Mecca. The first day of fasting is expected to be this Thursday, March 23. It ends 30 days later, followed by three days of Eid al-Fitr celebration.
This year’s series begins with a traditional Egyptian breakfast, ful medames.
– Jane Jeffes, founder and producer, Recipes for Ramadan
The story of Taysir Ghazi
My family and I are from Cairo and I spent much of my childhood and adolescence there. Dad used to work in Sudan, so sometimes we went to schools in Sudan and other times in Egypt. It was peaceful in Sudan at the time, but so hot.
I was in the middle of my year 12 exams in Cairo when the six day war between Egypt and Israel began. Exams had to be suspended. It was a terrible time for us. We lived on the outskirts of Cairo, which was very close to where the bombs were falling, so we had to pack up and walk further towards Cairo, where it was safer. No car would stop for us, not even taxis. They were all running away.
Taysir Ghazi and his fawala pot. Photography: Recipes for Ramadan
When I finally finished year 12, my parents and some of my siblings returned to Sudan. I had the option of going to Cairo University or a campus in Khartoum. My older sister was already studying there, so I decided to go to university there too. I studied commerce, specializing in administration.
I met my husband through extended family, but because there is a seven year age difference between us, I never met him growing up. You could say it was an introduced marriage rather than an arranged marriage, and 53 years later we’re still happily married with children and grandchildren.
Maybe being in an international school and moving between Cairo and Khartoum helped, but making friends in Australia was not difficult. My husband introduced me to the friends he made when he arrived, and I made more by playing tennis. When I started working, I also made friends there. I started out in a Redfern office as a typist. It was disappointing that I couldn’t use my qualifications, but after that, I got a job in accounting, something I had studied in my degree.
Perhaps inevitably, my husband and I find ourselves gravitating towards the Egyptians here in Australia. We are still in touch with the friends we made in 1971. I guess these friends remind us of our roots and give us a link to our families and where we grew up.
Ful medames in process. Photography: Recipes for Ramadan
Ful medames is a quintessential Egyptian street food and comfort food. There are three main versions: lemon and garlic, tomato and onion, and one with tahini. It is the national dish of Egypt and a very popular meal among all classes. It is eaten every day for breakfast, but in Ramadan it is eaten at suhur, the meal before the dawn prayer that should sustain us during the fasting day.
One of my favorite childhood memories is the crowded vendor who comes to our street early in the morning and in Ramadan before dawn. He would have a huge pot (called a fawala) of cooked beans and everyone would come with their own plates and plates or pots and pans and buy them for him. Then we would take them home and finish off the dish by adding a tomato and onion base, cumin, salt and pepper, chili pepper or lots of olive oil, garlic and lemon or a few good tablespoons of tahini. I also like it with fresh cucumber and chili flakes and it’s fun to experiment. Our family favorite is with tomatoes and chili flakes.
The Egyptians use a lot of tomatoes, I think it’s something to do with the soil. Ful really tastes wonderful there. It is usually eaten with Egyptian flatbread (Lebanese bread is similar and easier to buy in Australia) and accompaniments such as pickles, fried aubergines or falafel. Feel free to use your imagination and try your own combinations.
My mother always estimated the amount of ingredients by sight and taste, but before I moved to Australia, I asked her to write everything down for me. Now I cook by eye and taste too. During Ramadan, rubbing your tongue to get a taste of the seasoning is allowed, which is what most restaurant chefs do, but you can’t taste what you’re cooking, so your eyes and instincts are more important.
Taysir Ghazi’s ful medames in four ways
Taysir Ghazi’s ful medames in four ways. Photography: Recipes for Ramadan
Homework 15 minutes, plus soak overnight
Cooking 1 hour
900 g broad beans or dried broad beans (or 2 450g cans of broad beans, drained and rinsed well)
2 tablespoons of red lentils
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon ground cumin
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tomato, diced
Chopped onions, stir fry (optional)
lebanese cucumber, finely chopped
Chili flakes, serve
Pita bread, chopped tomato, chopped parsley, tahini and olive oil (extra)serve
If using dried broad beans, rinse the broad beans and lentils under cold running water, then place in a large saucepan. Cover with fresh, cold water, put the lid on the saucepan, and let soak for a few hours or overnight.
Drain the beans and lentils. We put them back in the saucepan and cover with fresh water. (If using canned beans, place them, along with the lentils, in the saucepan and cover with water.) Bring to a boil, then simmer for four to five hours (if you’re using canned beans, they’ll only need to simmer for an hour). Cover with fresh water as needed to keep the beans covered. The beans are ready when they are tender.
Drain bean mixture. At this stage, you can leave the beans whole or you can mash, blend, or crush them with your hands.
To serve, divide the bean mixture among four serving bowls and season. In the first bowl, add the garlic, cumin, olive oil, and lemon juice; in the second, add the tomato and cooked onions (if using); add a good tablespoon of tahini to the third; and cucumber and chili flakes quartered.
Serve hot with pita bread and top with tomato, parsley, tahini and a drizzle of oil. Get creative!
Taysir Ghazi is a wife, mother of three daughters, and a grandmother. Her family calls her Leela, she thinks that Taysir was difficult for others to say or write. She has lived in Australia since 1971 and has worked for the Islamic Women’s Association of Australia as an Aged Care Services Coordinator.
You can find this recipe and other Australian Muslim recipes and stories on the Recipes for Ramadan website; and follow the project on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube