This year, Saturday 2 April is the first day of Ramadan and the start of a month’s fasting for most Australian Muslims.
Over recent years, breaking the fast at nightly iftar meals with neighbors, colleagues and the wider community has become a special tradition in multicultural countries like Australia. For the Muslim community, it’s an opportunity to invite others into their lives, to share food, hospitality and conversation – and for those of us who are not Muslim, an invitation is an opportunity to better our understanding of other cultures and traditions and to build lasting friendships.
Recipes for Ramadan started as a community response to Covid-19. An unprecedented lockdown Ramadan in 2020 meant that community prayer, events and invitations to break the day’s fast with extended family and friends were suddenly all impossible, leaving a huge gap to fill.
Sharing recipes and family stories online became an alternative way to extend an invitation; an opportunity to delve into family histories from Australia’s diverse Muslim cultures, and explore the wider social and political events behind them.
Covid still casts a shadow but its legacy is a collection of over 50 recipes and stories from more than 20 countries – with more to come.
– Jane Jeffes, founder, Recipes for Ramadan
Kiran Afzal’s fruit chaat
Fruit chaat, or spiced fruit chaat, is one of those essential dishes on every Pakistani iftar table in Ramadan. It’s super simple to make – just diced up seasonal fresh fruit tossed with salt, sugar and chaat masala, plus a squeeze of lemon to prevent the fruit from browning and orange juice for a hint of tartness. Think of it as a refreshing palate cleanser to counter the traditional Pakistani iftar fried items of pakoras, samosas, spring rolls and chicken patties.
Chaat masala is the magical ingredient that transforms a simple fruit salad. Recipes for the spice mix vary from family to family, and on how it will be used. Some will be spicier and savory, and some will have more tang. My recipe is on the tangy and tart side, and it is something I make every year before Ramadan starts. As the spices roast, the house fills with fragrant warmth. But if you don’t have time to make your own, chaat masala spice mix is fairly easy to buy – in Pakistani and Indian grocery stores or in the international aisle of large supermarkets. Shan and National are brands that I regularly use.
If you really don’t have time to make or buy the spice mix, you can even substitute it with black pepper, salt and a little lemon juice.
Growing up, all of us siblings had roles and responsibilities assigned to us in the month of Ramadan. Once I was old enough to properly use a knife and had figured out the basics of chopping, my mother gave me the fruit chaat. I would prepare it in the afternoon when the entire house was asleep, sitting on the dining table chopping while I watched television.
At first, the fruit was mismatched and disproportionate, but as time went on, my cutting skills became more uniform. I also became better at estimating the spices and seasoning to add. The thing with Ramadan is that since we are fasting, we can’t taste the food we’re preparing, so it’s only when we take the first bite after we break the fast that we discover whether the sweetness level is correct.
In Pakistan, the most popular fruit for fruit chaat are guavas, pears, apples and bananas, supplemented with seasonal fruit depending on when Ramadan falls. The Islamic calendar is lunar, which is why the month of Ramadan moves forward by about two weeks every year.
My first Ramadan in Australia, I couldn’t figure out what fruit to use. It was winter and the fruit in the supermarket was exotic compared with what I was used to in Karachi. In Pakistan, apples are either red or green. Grapes have seeds. Blueberries, raspberries, kiwi fruit, nectarines, black and red grapes aren’t common. Even the way fruit is purchased was different. In Pakistan, we buy by the kilogram – no one buys just one apple!
Even though things were different here, I still had to have fruit chaat at my iftar table, so I experimented. This is what I have learned about making fruit chaat in Australia:
Out of all the apples available, pink lady works best. It’s crisp and firm and has the right tang-to-sweetness ratio. Just add lemon juice so it doesn’t discolor.
Pears don’t need to be peeledbut they do need to be ripe and sweet.
Stone fruit like nectarines and peaches are delicious in a fruit chaat. Nectarines don’t need to be peeled but peaches can be peeled if you don’t like the slightly furry skin. They should neither be too firm nor too soft.
Kiwi fruit adds a lovely hint of green.
When adding grapes, cut them in half or quarters. Use a mix of grapes (red, black and green) for colour.
If you are lucky, guavas are available at Pakistani or Asian stores. They are pricier, but for me, worth the expense once in a blue moon for the memories they evoke.
Fruit chaat is also a great way to finish the fruit in the house in a quick and easy manner. No one eats that lonely apple in the fruit basket, but the moment it’s converted into fruit chaat, it gets devoured instantly.
Lastly, there are no rules in fruit chaat. Feel free to experiment and find your favorite fruit combination.
Below is the recipe for the fruit chaat I’ll be making this Ramadan with Australia’s autumn fruits.
Serves 4 people
Prep 20 minutes
For the chaat masala spice mix
(Can alternatively be bought from the supermarket)
1 tbsp cumin seeds
½ tbsp coriander seeds
¾ tbsp dry mango powder (amchoor powder)
¼ tbsp black salt, can be substituted with Himalayan pink salt or sea salt
1 tsp red chilli powder
2-3 black peppercorns
For the fruit chat
(Adjust based on seasonal availability and personal preference)
1 small applecored and diced
1 pearcored and diced
1 peach or nectarine, peeled, cored and diced
8-10 strawberriescored and sliced (can be chopped as well)
½ cup seedless grapes, cut lengthwise or into quarters (depending on the size of the grapes)
8-10 cherriescored and diced (optional)
1 mandarin or small orangepeeled
Lemon juice (to prevent fruit from oxidizing)
For the seasoning
4 tbsp sugar (adjust to personal preference)
1½-2 tsp chaat masala (adjust to personal preference)
¼–½ cup orange juice
To make the spice mix, dry roast cumin and coriander seeds in a small frying pan until lightly toasted and aromatic.
Wait for them to cool, then pulse in a spice grinder with the black peppercorns until coarsely ground. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse again to mix through.
Chaat masala can be stored in the pantry in an airtight container.
To make the fruit chaat, place the diced apple in a bowl. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to prevent the apple from oxidising.
Cut around the mandarin (or orange) to remove the peel and white pith. Remove and discard any pipes. Cut the flesh into segments and then dice small, so that the citrus is the same size as the other fruit. Place the cut citrus in the same bowl as the apple, add the rest of the fruit and toss together gently.
Add sugar, chaat masala and orange juice, and stir, mixing well to combine. If you’re not fasting, taste and adjust seasonings – or do this just before you serve.
Depending on the combination of fruits used, the sugar and chaat masala quantity may need to be adjusted.
The fruit chaat can be served immediately. However, it’s best served chilled. Keep in the fridge for about 30 minutes to let the flavors meld together and create a delicious fruit juice in the bottom of the bowl.
Leftover fruit chaat can be kept in the fridge for up to two days. However, the fruit chaat can get soft and discolored, depending on the fruits used. Fruit chaat made from firm fruit such as apples and pears lasts longer. If bananas are used, it gets mushy and soft quickly.
The Shahrouk Sisters’ Lebanese red lentil soup
After a date or two and a few sips of water, lentil soup is a popular choice to break your Ramadan fast. There are different recipes, but ours is part of our family’s DNA and we serve it not just during Ramadan but throughout the colder months.
This soup reminds us of our mandatory weekly family get-togethers, every single Saturday. Those nights have been a weekly event since our paternal grandparents came out here from war-torn Lebanon in the late 1960s, and they still hold great significance for us. They’re a regular time to connect and catch up, to celebrate and also, sadly, sometimes to grieve together.
Our family comes from a village called Bakhoun, in the mountains near Tripoli in the north of Lebanon. It’s a beautiful spot. There are lots of big villas and holiday homes that people visit to escape the heat in summer and for snow in winter. Bakhoun has a very strong sense of community and our grandparents maintained this when they moved to Sydney.
Our grandfather’s name was Judu Ali and our father’s mother, our grandmother, was known to us as Tayta Aisha. The recipe for this soup was hers and she was always the one who served it. Tayta owned the ladle! We can all still picture the repetitive motion, serving bowl after bowl after bowl.
When we think of our grandparents, we think of this soup. When we were growing up, we felt it was the ultimate comfort food, warm and hearty. Now that we have families of our own, we serve it to them with freshly oven-baked crusty bread and a squeeze of lemon, which according to our late grandparents will ward off the cold and flu.
We have tweaked the recipe a little, by blitzing the soup smooth with our stick blenders, when traditionally it was served rustic and coarse. Our own families have come to prefer the smoother and creamier texture – but we suggest you try both and let your family decide.
2 cups red lentilswashed and drained
⅓ cup medium grain ricewashed and drained
4 chicken stock cubes
8 cups water
2 medium brown onionsfinely diced
4 cloves garliccrushed
1 bunch corianderwashed and finely chopped
2 tbsp clarified butter/ghee (Allowrie is our favorite)
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp red pepper paste
Salt to season
In a pot add lentils, rice, stock cubes and water. Bring to the boil and simmer for approximately 45 minutes.
Whilst soup is simmering, add butter to a pan and heat. Add the onions and cook until golden brown, then add garlic and stir for a further minute. Add tomato paste, red pepper paste and coriander to the pan and cook off for further two minutes.
Once the soup is cooked, you have two options.
For a creamy texture, puree the soup with a stick blender, then add the onion mixture, or for a coarser soup, add the onion mixture to the lentils and rice when they are soft and cooked through.
Kiran Afzal is originally from Karachi, Pakistan. She moved to Sydney in 2018. A marketing professional by day, in her spare time she is a food blogger and recipe developer. Her Instagram handle her is @mirchitales.
The Shahrouk Sisters are Australian-born Muslim women from a Lebanese background. Halla, Houda, Leeann and Rouba were the winners of the first series of Channel Nine’s Family Food Fight. They now run cooking classes and workshops together.
You can find these recipes and other Australian-Muslim recipes and stories on the Recipe for Ramadan website; and follow the project on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.