From a spiritual perspective, Ramadan is a time for self-reflection, introspection, worship, and meditation, observed in part through abstaining from food and drink from dawn until sunset. Abstaining from eating and drinking allows those who observe Ramadan to redirect their attention from the hustle and bustle of daily life to spiritual matters. From a social perspective, Ramadan draws community and families together. The nightly breaking of the fast, called iftar, is a time for prayer, food, family, and fun.
My iftar traditions are strongly rooted in Moroccan culture. My mother, who is Moroccan, maintains these traditions whether we are living in Morocco or abroad. Now that I have my own household and husband, the traditions live on with me.
In Morocco, as in most of the Islamic world, iftar is all about the food. It is eaten right after the sunset prayer, or Maghrib. Everyone in the family anticipates iftar, and even children (who are not required to fast) can't wait to break fast. No Moroccan iftar would be complete without harira, a meat-based tomato and lentil soup. Harira is eaten year round in Morocco, but is especially important for breaking the fast during Ramadan. There are as many variations on harira recipes as there are Moroccan families, however authentic harira recipes share some basic ingredients. One of my fondest childhood memories from my time in Morocco during Ramadan was catching the rich scent of cooking harira as it wafted from neighbors' homes 2-3 hours before Maghrib. Along with harira, our iftar table, and that of most Moroccans, would include dates, milk, hard-boiled eggs, and finger foods like briouats (seafood or meat filled pastries), and traditional desserts. Two types of dessert are most common: sfouf and shebbakia. Shebbakia is a honey soaked fried sesame pastry, while sfouf (also known as smita or sellout) is an unhusked sesame, almond and flour dessert. Families either make or purchase these sweets, and during Ramadan you see sweet stalls with carts piled high with glistening stacks of shebbakia and mounds of sfouf.
While I can't capture all of the magic a Ramadan in Morocco evokes living here in Denmark, there are a few traditions I can't live without. Every Ramadan includes harira and dates no matter where I live. Below is my basic harira recipe, in the hopes that if you make it, you'll feel a little of the magic of Ramadan, too.
(Click on the titles or photos below to link to the recipes.)