Ramadan Mubarak to all my readers who are observing Ramadan. It’s day 6 of the month today, and it feels like it’s going really fast already, doesn’t it?
For those of you who are not observing this month and don’t know much about it, I would love to share a little about this holy month here with you.
** If you are only after the recipe please feel free to skip the following few paragraphs, and scroll straight down to the recipe card (you can also print it out by clicking the print button on the side).
A LITTLE ABOUT RAMADAN
It is the ninth month in the islamic calendar, and it is an obligation for healthy muslim adults to fast during this month. Fasting is technically to cease drinking, eating, smoking and engaging in any sexual activity, starting from dawn to sunset. There are over 1.6 billion Muslims around the world and most of them observe Ramadan, so there is a good chance you might bump into someone fasting during your day, whether it’s a taxi driver, a barista at your local cafe, a friend or a colleague at work, trust me it will happen and you need to be prepared to show off your knowledge and I’m here to help. haha!
Here are a few questions that I get asked often by my non-muslim friends. They tell me that they get shy asking other muslims these questions. If you are one of these people who are curious to know more about this month and why it is so special to muslims, please read along ..
1. So why is Ramadan so important for muslims and what is it exactly? Ramadan is the most sacred month of the year for muslims. According to the islamic belief, it is the month when the first versus of Quran were revealed to the prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him). It’s pretty much like a celebration for muslims for receiving the holy book, ‘Quran’.
2. How do you know the day when you have to start fasting? Well, Ramadan officially starts when muslims visually sight the crescent moon marking the beginning of every islamic month, and it ends when the crescent of the next month’s moon is sighted. In astronomy, the new moon is actually very hard to see with the naked eye in the night sky, because it’s almost completely dark. So the prophet Mohamed (PBUH) advised muslims to wait for the first sign of the silver crescent, which is enough evidence to start fasting. And because it’s still hard to sight a crescent in it’s very early stages, the starting day of ramadan is always a debate between muslim leaders. We as a family had decided long ago to stop this confusion, and start our fasting with the majority of muslims.
3. What do you benefit from not eating or drinking for a whole day, I mean what’s the point? You see, Ramadan is not only about ceasing those things mentioned above, it’s also a time for self-reflection. Ceasing food and drink helps in reminding you of your human frailty and your total dependance on God for living. Feeling hungry and thirsty during the day makes you feel responsible for helping the poor when you can, because you have experienced their pain. You naturally find yourself passionate about donating to charity and helping others.
But it’s also not just about these things, it’s about increasing religion devotion in so many other ways such as getting rid of negative thoughts, like anger and jealousy, fixing up your relationships especially with family members, caring and looking after your parents, reading and understanding Quran, meditating, detoxifying your body and soul, slowing down the pace of life, changing bad habits once and for all, acknowledging the things you are blessed to have and being grateful to God. These are the real rewards you get out of this month, and that’s why I think it’s a celebration.
4. Does fasting affect your health in a bad way? I bet you lose so many kilos during this month, is that right?
Well, first of all people with any medical condition that will be negatively affected by fasting, don’t have to fast. Fasting is an obligation for healthy adults only. Children practice from a young age but they only fast for a few hours which is totally fine. Now fasting is supposed to be an ideal cleansing program (if you like) for the body, ONLY if it is done the right way. So the answer is no, it’s not bad for your body, infact it is very beneficial.
Losing weight is sometimes challenging during Ramadan because of the variety of food and the special treats with high sugar content, traditionally served when breaking the fast. But again, it’s all about self control, which is what ramadan is really about. There are 2 main meals in a Ramadan day. One at dawn time called ‘Suhoor’ and another at sunset called ‘Iftar’. Breaking your fast on a small snack, ideally dates and water, and waiting for a while before you eat your main meal, helps a lot with digestion and with avoiding the extra kilos during this month. So to answer your question, if you avoid over eating (especially when breaking your fast) and maintain a regular low intensity exercise, like walking for 30 mins a day, you will end up losing the extra weight, that’s for sure.
5. What do you like the most about Ramadan?
Ramadan somehow brings people together. People living in the same city break their fast together at the exact same time, and this is when the sunset prayers call goes off. It unites people and makes them feel like one family. Gatherings at Iftar is a tradition and is another way of bringing people together as they share delicious meals and special desserts. Most of these desserts for some reason, appear only during Ramadan. ‘Katayef’ is one of them. So if we are talking food, Katayef would be the thing I like the most about Ramadan.
Hang on, you know what? I’ve just realised that I haven’t spent Ramadan with my family in Egypt for 15 long years!! I knew it was a long time but not that long!
Ramadan is a very emotional time of the year for me, it brings back tonnes of childhood memories. My siblings and I practiced fasting from a young age, we used to skip lunch at school but then would drink water accidentally ‘intentionally’ during lunch break and then carry on with the day pretending nothing had happened haha! Our parents used to encourage fasting by rewarding us for fasting half a day, and that was the best part of fasting at the time. Walking in the streets of Cairo during Ramadan was something very special too. As a tradition, a few days before the month starts, people get together and start decorating their streets with colourful lights, greeting each other and of course exchanging recipes and discussing food ideas for Iftar. I have been told that people are still keeping to those traditions until today. These scenes will stay in my memory forever and these are the things I miss the most about being around my family. It’s days like these when I feel deeply home sick. But I usually suck it in and start cooking dishes that would remind me of my family gatherings. Only then I start feeling better and focus on building new memories with my own kids rather than feeling sorry for myself. I better wipe these tears and get to the ‘Katayef’ immediately!
Katayef is the arabic version of pancakes. They are very similar to pancakes except that they contain yeast, cooked only from one side (no flipping), and then filled with either nuts, cream or unsalted cheese. These lightly yeasted pockets are sooo delicious, almost addictive! When you eat one, it’s very hard to stop.
You know I have never made Katayef myself ? This is the first time I made them. I have searched and tried so many different ways of making them before writing this post. But I finally developed this recipe which is a result of all these trials, and I’m sooo happy with it. This is one of, if not THE healthiest Katayef recipe you could make. I replaced the sugary syrup with organic maple syrup (so you don’t even have to worry about making the syrup from scratch). I love maple syrup, it’s rich in flavours and also nutrients. Definitely better than refined sugar. I also added some whole meal flour and replaced the vegetable oil (which is usually used for deep frying) with coconut oil, and I only used a little bit of it to shallow fry my Katayef. SUCCESS!!
- 1/4 cup unbleached plain flour
- 1 teaspoon raw cane sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon dry yeast (newly bought)
- 1/2 cup warm filtered water
- 3/4 cup unbleached Palin flour
- 1 cup wholemeal flour
- 1/2 cup fine semolina
- 2 and 1/2 cup of warm filtered water
- 1 tablespoon raw cane sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- a heavy based nonstick pan (preferably a pancake one)
- A plastic squeezy bottle with a small tip, or an empty ketchup bottle.
- flat spatula
- a small heavy based pan for shallow frying (to fit only 3-4 katayef at a time, not more)
- a pan lid at least 20 cm wide
- a dry and clean kitchen towel
- 350-400 g fresh ricotta cheese
- 4 tablespoons organic maple syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup ground pistachios
- 1 cup roasted blanched hazelnuts, coarsely crushed
- 1/2 cup finely shredded coconut
- 1 heaped tablespoon fine coconut sugar or raw brown sugar
- 1/2 cup sultanas
- 1 teaspoon good quality ground cinnamon
- a pinch of ground cardamom.
- For shallow frying
- about 4 heaped tablespoons hard pure organic coconut oil (1-2 cm of oil when melted in a small pan)
- For the syrup
- 250-300 ml good quality maple syrup, extra for serving.( I use 'Absolute Organic' brand)
- Start by preparing the batter starter. Mix all ingredients of the starter and whisk gently then cover with a towel and leave aside in a warm place for 5 mins, or until it starts to produce tiny bubbles on the surface.
- place all batter ingredients in a stand blender, then add the prepared starter.
- blend until you get a homogenous thin batter with no lumps.(It takes about 1 minute)
- allow the batter to rest for 20-30 minutes. not longer.
- meanwhile prepare the filling
- if you are making half the number of Katayef stuffed with cheese and the other half with nuts, then use half of each of the stuffing ingredients listed above.( the quantity of each stuffing option listed above is enough to stuff 30 Katayef)
- mix the stuffing ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
- when the batter is ready, stir once again using a spoon, and then transfer to your plastic squeezy bottle, tighten the pointy bottle tip. ( the bottle won't be big enough to hold the whole amount of batter at once, refill the bottle with the batter during cooking). *see notes below for bottle alternatives
- place the Katayef pan on medium-high heat for a minute, then reduce the heat to keep it between low and medium
- squeeze out some of the batter into the centre of the pan, use enough batter to make a circle that is approx 9-10 cm in diameter. (the first few are always the testers), you will get the hang of it after the second one. Measure the first one and adjust the size for the rest. Try your best. don't stress.
- once the batter touch the pan, bubbles will start to appear at the surface, which is a sign of having a good batter
- using a lid larger than the katayef size cover the katayef and count 20 seconds, then remove the cover and count 20 seconds again, by then your Katayef should be cooked perfectly and completely dry from the top.(if it is still a little wet from the top, wait for an extra few seconds)Covering the Katayef for 20 seconds will help preserve some moisture to produce a softer Katayef and will also cut down on cooking time.
- when ready, remove using a spatula, place on one half of a clean and dry kitchen towel to cool down, cover by folding the other half over the katayef ( this is very important to keep the Katayef nice and soft)
- repeat until you use up all your batter, cover with the towel and prepare to stuff them as soon as they cool down, start with the ones you cooked first.
- fold the Katayef into half circle and pinch it from one side to start sealing the edges stopping half way through ( pinch the dough firmly using your thumb, index and middle finger to make sure it's sealed really well but also gently so you don't tear the Katayef)
- using a small spoon, fill the pocket you have formed with some cheese or nuts1-2 teaspoons) and then continue sealing the edges.
- For stuffing with cheese: you don't need to seal it all the way, only seal three quarters and leave the last quarter unsealed and let some of the cheese ooze out, sprinkle ground pistachios on the cheese as shown in pictures above, then arrange on a serving plate, serve with drizzled maple syrup on top. These cheese Katayef are eaten soft, you don't bake or fry them. They can be stored in the fridge in an air-tight container for up to 2 days.
- For stuffing with nuts: seal the folded Katayef all the way to form half a moon( see pictures above) don't over fill it to avoid bursting or opening up during frying.
- prepare a small bowl with maple syrup before you start frying
- heat the coconut oil in the pan( coconut oil doesn't take long to heat up)
- when read, place 3-4 katayef in the hot oil and fry until the edges are golden brown
- turn the Katayef over and cook the other side until golden brown.
- using a slotted spatula remove the half moon shaped Katayef from the oil and dunk them straight in the maple syrup, flipping them over to cover both sides generously with the syrup, remove straight away and arrange on the serving plate.with extra maple syrup for drizzling.
- If you don't have a stand mixer, you can always mix the ingredients in a bowl starting with the dry ingredients then stirring in the wet ingredients, make sure you combine them well to create a thin batter with no lumps.
- Make sure you don't leave the batter to rest for more than 30 mins, as it might taste or smell too yeasty.
- If you don't have a plastic bottle like this one, you can use any other utensil to pour the amount of approx. 2 tablespoons of batter in the centre of the pan and this will give you about the same size Katayef mentioned above.
- Keep the heat between low to medium while cooking your Katayef. Same temperature, same size katayef makes all the difference when presenting.
- Once you cook your batter, start stuffing your Katayef as soon as possible, if you leave them out for more than an hour, the risk of not being able to seal them will start increasing. They dry out and will crack while folding and will probably refuse to be sealed.
- To avoid over grinding the hazelnuts, place them in a plastic bag and crush them using a rolling pin. this way they are not too fine and will maintain a good texture inside the katayef.
- Using a small pan in frying your katayef will make you consume less of your precious coconut oil.
- You can freeze your sealed Katayef ( they have to be sealed already) before frying them, by placing them on a tray in the freezer for 3 hours until they are hard and frozen, then transfer them to freezer bags, seal very well and freeze for up to a 2 months.