In an odd twist, the month of Ramadan, with its dawn-to-dusk fasting, not only gives Dena Farah the opportunity to celebrate her Muslim faith, it also allows her to indulge her passion for food.
The 43-year-old Allen Park, Mich., resident, who is of Egyptian and Palestinian descent, is an avid cook, teacher and all-around food enthusiast, so preparing wholesome meals for her brood — six sons, ages 6 to 23 — won't be a problem.
Food and drink, including water, are not consumed during daylight hours during Ramadan, a particular challenge when it falls at this time of year because of the longer summer days.
"During Ramadan, we try to have a variety of foods, although we are supposed to be humble and modest about it," Farah says. "This is a time of reflection and understanding that there are other people who don't have what we have."
Dates, soups and salads play a big role in Farah's menus.
"Even if my kids are craving pizza, I will still make sure they have a bowl of soup and salad," Farah says. Soups might be crushed lentil or chicken with orzo. A salad might be a version of fattoush.
Farah, who also is a bilingual support teacher for the Melvindale-Northern Allen Park Schools, sometimes prepares maklouba, a rice and vegetable dish with cooked beef or chicken. The ingredients are layered in a pot. When the dish is done, the pot is flipped upside down on a serving platter, and everything comes out in a mound. Farah also prepares sambousa, a fried Arabic-style egg roll.
Eating dates to break the fast is traditional because that's what the prophet Muhammad did — and, Farah says, they give you a burst of energy. She often makes dates stuffed with nuts and shredded coconut, or she will serve her mother's fruit compote recipe, which calls for dates and other dried fruits.
"There is also something about the nutritional value of the dates — it satisfies you," Farah says.
Apricot Dried Fruit Compote
Preparation time: 15 minutes (plus soaking time)
Total time: 15 minutes (plus soaking time)
For apricot juice:
7 ounces apricot paste
8 cups of water
1 cup pitted dates, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 cup figs, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 cup prunes, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 cup golden raisins, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 cup apricots, chopped into bite-size pieces
Chop apricot paste into 1-inch pieces and soak overnight in a large bowl with the 8 cups of water. The paste also can be soaked in hot water for 4 to 5 hours.
Whisk the apricot juice, making sure the apricot paste has dissolved; if not, heat in a microwave a few minutes and remix the juice, smoothing out any lumps and apricot pieces. Add all of the dried fruits and mix well.
Allow dried fruit to soak in the apricot juice for at least 2 to 3 hours before serving.
Serve in mini bowls or cups garnished with shredded coconut and pistachios.
Store leftover compote in the refrigerator up to 7 days.
— from Dena Farah, Allen Park, Mich.; tested by Susan Selasky in the Free Press Test Kitchen
Nutritional values: 341 calories (1 percent from fat), 0 grams fat (0 grams sat. fat), 89 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 11 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol, 7 grams fiber.