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Ramadan: Breakfast When the Sun Goes Down


When did Ramadan begin this year? Mansur Shabbiri, director of the local Council on Islamic Education, laughs.

On one hand, it's quite a serious question, because Muslims are required to abstain from food, water and a number of other things during the daylight hours of the month of Ramadan. But on the other, a cut-and-dried answer just might not be possible.

"It depends," continues Shabbiri. "In some places, the date is calculated differently than in others. The Muslim calendar is lunar, and the beginning of the month is determined by sighting the crescent moon. But these days, with smog and so forth, sighting it can be difficult.

"Some centers rely on sightings abroad, and so for them Ramadan began on Feb. 22, but to be on the safe side I would say it began on Feb. 23."

Ramadan is the month when the Prophet Muhammad received the first of the revelations that make up the Quran. The Ramadan fast is one of the five principal duties of a Muslim, obligatory for all adults except for the ill, people on journeys and women who are pregnant, nursing or menstruating, and even they must fast an equivalent number of days as soon as they are able. Those who are fasting are also supposed to avoid worry and ill-temper.

When the sun has completely set and there is not enough light to distinguish a white thread from a black thread, the fast is lifted and Muslims are expected to eat and enjoy themselves in moderation until dawn, when the fast begins again.

During Ramadan, extra prayers must also be said, and every Muslim should recite the entire Quran, or hear it recited. A special charitable donation for the poor is also obligatory for all who are not themselves destitute. At least once, every Muslim is supposed to spend the last 10 days of Ramadan in total religious retreat in prayer, religious study and meditation.

The fast ends for good on Id al-Fitr, a three-day holiday of thanksgiving for the blessings of Ramadan that begins on the first day of the following month. It begins with an early morning worship service, and the rest of the holiday is celebrated with visits and meals, congratulations and gift-giving.

"You can write that Id al-Fitr will begin Wednesday, March 24," says Shabbiri. "That is, in all likelihood."

When the sun has set, Moroccans traditionally sit down to a Ramadan evening "breakfast" of dates, cake, coffee and this peppery soup. This recipe comes from "Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco" by Paula Wolfert, 1973.

HARIRA (Moroccan Ramadan Soup) 2 pounds very ripe tomatoes Water 2 tablespoons butter 1 cup chopped onions 1 cup chopped parsley 1 tablespoon finely chopped celery leaves 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1 teaspoon turmeric 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 pound lamb shoulder, cut in 1/2-inch cubes Wings, back and giblets of 1 chicken 2 tablespoons cilantro Salt 1/2 cup lentils, sorted and rinsed 1/2 cup fine soup noodles 3 tablespoons flour 2 lemons, quartered

Dip tomatoes into boiling water briefly, then remove and peel. Cut in half and squeeze out seeds and juice. Puree. Set aside.

In large soup pot, melt butter. Add onions, parsley, celery leaves, pepper and turmeric. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring. Add cinnamon, lamb and chicken parts. Cook slowly, turning mixture over and over until golden but not browned, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Pound cilantro with dash salt in mortar until paste forms, or puree cilantro in food processor with 1 teaspoon water. Add cilantro paste, lentils and pureed tomatoes to pot. Cook 15 minutes over low heat. Add 1 1/2 quarts water and cook until lentils are soft and soup is well blended.

About 5 minutes before serving, season soup to taste with salt and add noodles. Bring to boil and cook 2 minutes. Mix flour with 1/2 cup water and stir into soup. Cook 3 minutes longer, stirring continuously to prevent lumping. Serve with lemon wedges. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Each serving, based on 8 servings, contains about: 186 calories; 118 mg sodium; 73 mg cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 16 grams carbohydrates; 13 grams protein; 1.29 grams fiber.

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