Exploring Puerto Rico

Exploring Puerto Rico
At Cafe Puerto Rico in Old San Juan

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ramadan Confidentials

Ramadan Mubarak Everyone! While it's a month of penance and reflection and of course moderation, I have been both good and bad. The good comes from my decision of reading the entire Quran in both Arabic and its English translation and really plunge into it. I have never done so in the past and always just read the same surahs again and again and again, Al-Rahman, Al-Baqara, Al-Waqiha and so on. So this new endeavor has been almost like a journey, a new path to tread on and an all-together new experience for me to discover the holy book in my adulthood for the first time. Being the revered book that it is, I have to say I read it with mixed feelings. Sometimes I am struck with feelings of fear that remind me that time is running out and I have not been a good muslim. But then being a good mulsim I find is a relative term. I always strive to be good  or a better person, but yes maybe not a devout muslim. Sometimes I experience both joy and love when at a surreal level I am reminded that I am reading the words of the Almighty Himself. But sadly, I have to admit I am sometimes gripped by feelings of anger when my feminist self rises and I feel the need of disagreeing with what's being said or at least the way it's interpreted. But always, like a wheel barrow, the feeling of fear surges back to hush me from questionning things and stop me from feeling what I am feeling. Haha, I did not mean to ramble and digress, but I guess Sabrina will always be Sabrina!

So I talked about some good happening this month and my epic religious journey (it's all relative, isn't it?). The bad comes from definitely indulgence and that goes against this holy month. When I say indulgence, it's never a matter of monetary or material acquisitions, but culinary indulgence. So while we are supposed to practice simplicity, Sabrina has been hosting elaborate iftar parties. But then, isn't providing love to people by providing them what I do best (cook) and rejoice and see them rejoice in a weird way a form of worship and an offering to God's children and in a weird way a way of giving back? I would rather believe that and along the way share with you some of the Ramadan culinary essentials.

The Peyaju and Beguni must haves!!!

I have to admit while I look to spend my day in the kitchen, deep frying is not one of my strengths. Mustafa, not used to my frying endeavors thought that I was making fish!!! The oils of deep frying reminded him probably of fish and chips! I had to reassure him that for once, I was not trying to be fishy! It was really just the not so innocent peyaju and beguni! So here goes my friends, my recipes for these two not so figure friendly Ramadan culprits!

Peyaju (Fried lentils with onions)

-- Red Lentils (1 1/2 cup washed and soaked in water for a couple of hours)
-- One big red onion thinly sliced
-- 1tsp grated ginger
-- 1/2 tsp grated garlic
-- 1/2 tsp turmeric
-- 1/2 tsp red chili flakes (you can use green chillies but was trying to make it less spicy)
-- 1/4 tsp each coriander and cumin
-- Salt to taste
-- 1/4 tsp baking powder
-- Small bunch of cilantro minced
(My mom swears that what makes her peyaju special is adding shredded cabbage. I did not use it, but I am a big fan of my mom's peyaju)

1. Drain the lentils well and put in food processor and pulse it until well mashed.
2. Add all ingredients except for salt. When you add the salt, be ready to start frying as adding salt makes the mixture runny and it's not good if you are trying to fry those little suckers.
3. In a skillet, heat up about 1/2 inch of canola oil on medium high heat. The way you know the oil is hot and ready, dip the other side of your wooden spoon and if it causes bubbles to form around it, the oil is ready for frying!
4. With a tsp, get some of the lentil mixture and use your thumb to flatten (if thick and round, the peyaju will fry on the outside and remain raw in the inside) and slowly dip them in the oil. In a couple of minutes, they will start browning on one side. Do not stir them around. Once nicely browned on one side, if not too flattened, you can flatten the peyaju with your spoon and flip to fry the other side. Leave some kitchen towels handy to blot any extra oil on the peyaju. Have these warm and crisp!

Beguni (Friend eggplant)

-- One eggplant
-- 1 cup besan (chickpea flour)
-- 1/4 tsp baking powder
-- 1/4 tsp each turmeric, red chilli, coriander, cumin, salt

1. Mix the besan with the spices and water until it's a thick sauce consistency. When you add water, add a Tbsp at a time and mix. You don't want it too runny.
2. Cut eggplants very thinly. If you do this ahead of time, then you need to salt the eggplants and let it run all its bitterness. However, I do this right when it's time to fry, so my eggplants are not blackened. Dip the eggplants in the besan mix.
3. Heat up some canola oil for deep frying. Use the same test I described above to know that the oil is ready and start dipping the eggplants in batches. It usually takes about 1 minute on each side. Take out once it's slighly brown on both sides and lay on some kitchen towels to soak up any excess oil.

I serve both items with some raita. Just mix in some greek yogurt, a little water, cilantro, mint leaves, green chillis, black salt, salt, cumin, sugar in a blender et voila!

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