Ink on my Apron: A Bowlful of Ramadan Spirit
Fattet dishes are a much-loved fixture of Levantine cuisine and there are various riffs on it, all based on the basic premise of layering fried or baked pieces of pita bread with different toppings.
Four weeks of Ramadan with Ink on my Apron
In what feels like a blink of an eye, we’ve inched into the final stretch of Ramadan and for the devout, there don’t seem to be enough hours in a day. While the entire month is meant to be devoted to spiritual cleansing, atonement, and abstinence, the last ten nights are of particular magnitude for Muslims across the world. During this period, the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) is said to have exerted himself to a greater extent than at any other time, in acts of devotion. He is reported to have said that Laylatul Qadr - or the Night of Power, described in the Quran as, “better than a thousand months” (97:3) - occurs on an odd-numbered night during the final ten nights of Ramadan. As for the spiritual benefits believers stand to reap, the Prophet is reported to have said, “Whoever prays during the night of Qadr with faith and hoping for its reward will have all of his previous sins forgiven.” (Bukhari and Muslim recorded from Abu Huraira)
There is a visible winding down of the social and entertaining aspects associated with Ramadan and Iftar (sunset meal that marks the end of the daily fast) gatherings are usually switched for hours of prayer, the performance of various forms of zikr (the remembrance of Allah) and reading the Quran. In fact, it is not uncommon for many to spend the better half of their days and nights in a mosque. Food, quite naturally, takes a backseat and it seems almost befitting that Palestinian Jordanian food blogger Tamam Abdullah has chosen to showcase Fattet Hummus. Not only is this dish one that goes down a treat with her Indian husband and five children, but it also helps that, “It’s quick, very tasty and with hummus, yoghurt, bread, and pine nuts, it’s super nutritious and a meal in itself. Guests always seem to love it as well and I’ve noticed that at a party it’s one of the first things to finish.” There is more assembling involved than actual cooking, which is especially convenient for those who prefer to step into the kitchen only an hour before Iftar to prepare something cooling, wholesome, and healthy.
Fattet dishes are a much-loved fixture of Levantine cuisine and there are various riffs on it, all based on the basic premise of layering fried or baked pieces of pita bread with different toppings. The word fattet is derived from the verb “fa-tta” - used in colloquial Arabic dialect - which means to crumble bread into small pieces. Fattet hummus is typically served as a Friday breakfast treat in countries such as Syria or as a side dish for special dinners and usually features fried pita bread, tahini sauce, tahini paste, chickpeas and a topping of pine nuts. Tamam adds her own ingenious spin by adding yoghurt to the tahini paste to create a delightfully silky layer. She goes on to say that she was inspired to do so by other versions such as Fattet al-Makdoos (Eggplant Fattet) or Fattet Djaj (Chicken Fattet).
Tamam is quite animated when she states that Ramadan traditions seem to be fading and trends are swiftly changing. She illustrates this point by saying, “When my parents were alive and before I was married, everybody used to gather for Iftar. Nowadays, people prefer to meet for suhour and it’s more of a socialising event. I mean, suhour used to just be a meal people had at home before sunrise but now it’s trendy.”
The nostalgic note in her voice is also hard to miss when she reminisces about a simpler time when the traditional Iftar fare on display in every Palestinian home was nothing more than a date; a tamarind or buttermilk refreshing drink; one of two basic soups – a lentil variety or a chicken “noodle” soup made with vermicelli and chicken stock - followed immediately by a main course that was typically rice and a gravy. This is a far cry from the lavish banquet-style spreads that most houses seem to churn out today. There are also the rich food rituals each family prides itself on such as making atayef (deep fried pancake pockets dipped in sugar syrup), which were typically partaken as a communal cooking activity by the women of the house and then served after the Maghreb prayers with tea. “Sugary desserts such as lugeimat, awamat and basbousa seem to be more common during Ramadan for some reason. We used to make all these things at home but these are slowly being replaced by ready-made substitutes or left out completely as most people are careful about what they eat nowadays.”
And while Tamam has handed down her love for good food to all her children with her daughter Sally in the UK even managing to make her mother proud by churning out dishes like warakenab (stuffed grape leaves) and stuffed marrows, there are certain other values she also hopes to instil and pass on such as reciting the entire Quran during Ramadan. She looks at me with a smile and says, “You know why the house is so quiet now? My youngest two are upstairs reciting the Quran. Every day I read with them and they have to finish one “juzu”. They also have to pray the taraweeh prayers.”
Recipe for Tamam Abdullah’s Fattet Hummus
1 large Arabic khubz or pita (cut into bite-sized cubes)
Virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt (enough to brush over the bread)
½ cup yoghurt
2 tbsp tahini paste
½ tsp salt
Squeeze of lemon
2 cloves garlic, finely ground (optional)
½ cup chickpeas, canned or fresh that has been cooked
2 tbsp pine nuts
A handful of finely chopped parsley leaves
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Take the cubed bits of bread and place them in a single layer on a tray or sheet and brush lightly with olive oil and salt. Bake for about 10 minutes, until they turn crisp, turning once halfway.
2. Add the tahini paste, salt, lemon, and garlic to the yoghurt and whisk until the mixture turns silky.
3. Lightly dry roast the pine nuts on a low flame and set aside.
4. To assemble, take a glass bowl and layer the bottom with the pita crisps. Next, add the chickpeas and then spoon over the yoghurt layer. To garnish, sprinkle the pine nuts and parsley leaves.
All photographs courtesy of Jehan Nizar
Jehan Nizar is a food blogger and a lifestyle features writer at www.inkonmyapron.com