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Why Cucumbers Are a Great Ramadan Snack

And other tips from Chicago food blogger Abeer Najjar, who explains the changing food traditions of Islam’s holy month.

Abeer Najjar is a South Side cook who produces the beautifully shot web series Abeer’s Day Off.   Photo: @IAmShooter

Ramadan, a month of dawn-to-dusk fasting, nightly prayer, and celebration is expected to wrap up this weekend for America’s 3.3 million Muslims. “You can see the diversity of the American Muslim community through the foods we cherish and eat during Ramadan,” says Abeer Najjar, a South Side cook behind the web series Abeer’s Day Off, produced in collaboration with Revive.

A self-taught cook, Najjar says her mother’s humble recipes rooted in Palestine showed her how to share love through food. “My mom would teach herself how to make tacos, or burgers,” says Najjar, who named her informal seasonal dinner series Huda’s Supper Club after her mother. “There is something so badass about her expanding her kitchen skills just to make us happy.”

The food blogger showcases recipes like the shawarma taco (“the slow-cooked meat, tahini sauce, and sumac onions of a shawarma has a love affair with the toasty tortilla, rich crema, and fresh salsa of a taco”) and shares mouthwatering slow-motion videos of barbecues from her travels.

Najjar sat down to discuss Ramadan foods, her childhood memories, and why the month-long journey has become less about food and more about personal and spiritual growth.

On traditional (and nontraditional) foods for iftar, the breaking of the fast at sunset

“Growing up, we never broke our fasts with dates—we simply couldn’t find them despite how commonplace they are now. You just broke you fast on whatever food and drink was around, but now Shop and Save and Pete’s have humongous displays of dates for Ramadan. I’ve gotten super nostalgic about cereal this Ramadan, too, with Fruit Loops cravings.

On staying hydrated, a common issue for fasters

“Persian cucumbers are a must in our house. It has that earthiness like it was picked from your garden, the flesh-to-seed water ratio is good, they are crisp, and don’t have the sugar content of fruit. All cucumbers have their calling: English seedless is great in a salad, but a Persian cucumber will keep your hydration way longer in the day than just chugging water.

On saving food

“Our family made a conscious effort to save food this year and really repurpose our leftovers instead of throwing them out. For instance, a pot of stuffed grape leaves last night is dinner tonight. Food waste is a huge problem in a lot of Muslim communities with wealth. There are these massive buffets during Ramadan, people eating until they get sick, but we are really focused on eating simple this year.

On advertisers and Ramadan

“You might see this more in the Middle East than here, but I’ve still noticed a shift in advertising in Ramadan. You are seeing, for instance, Ramadan mubarak [a congratulatory greeting] in some Whole Foods stores. I’m divided because I’m really happy we have this representation that we have never had before, so you feel less weird about fasting. But I think it reflects consumerism instead of spiritual growth. It’s hard to make a commercial about getting closer to God, but you can make a commercial about what to wear or eat in Ramadan.

On supporting new fasters

“It’s amazing to spend time with nieces and nephews who are just starting to fast and helping them through the process. One of my oldest Ramadan memories is coming home after fasting all day when I was 9 or 10 years old, pouring myself a bowl of chips and salsa, and eating it all before realizing I’d accidentally just broken my fast. My mom was there for me while I was figuring out fasting. She was like, ‘Abeer, this is God’s way of giving you a small blessing. You must have needed something to eat!’”

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