Written by Julian Bynoe

[IMAGE: Islamic SkylineDuring the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar, Muslims worldwide celebrate the major holy day of their religion; Ramadan. Occurring around January, Ramadan marks the period when the religion’s founder, the Prophet Mohammad, received the holy words from Allah (God) and put them down into the Koran in the 7th Century AD.

During this period, adult Muslims must fast from dawn until dusk for 29-30 days to stir universal compassion and spiritual renewal for all.

According to scholars the Prophet Mohammed, although not a vegetarian, did prefer to eat vegetarian foods and had a great love and compassion for animals. His favourite foods consisted of yogurt with butter or nuts, cucumbers with dates, pomegranates, grapes and figs. He was known to have quoted: “Where there is an abundance of vegetables, a host of angels will descend on that place.”
Like most of the world’s religions (except Jainism), modern Islam does not fully support vegetarianism, although certain Muslim sects such as the Shi’ites and Sufis have vegetarian followers. Throughout the African, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian parts of the Islamic World, meat is a rarity, making vegetarianism a necessity and not a choice.

During Ramadan, Muslims begin the day with a pre-dawn meal (sehri) of porridge, bread or fruit. When sundown approaches, they slowly break their fast with something simple like bread and cheese or fruit, followed by a big dusk meal (iftar) like a hearty soup or stew. When the new moon is sighted, Ramadan ends in a huge feast for family and friends, lasting for several days, called Eid-ul-Fitr.

The following are just some of the tasty dishes served during or after Ramadan from various countries.



Serves 4A popular vegetarian soup from Algeria.

  • 1 1/2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves pressed or minced garlic
  • 3/4 tsp. paprika
  • pinch cayenne or to taste
  • 1/2 cup tomato puree
  • 4 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt or to taste
  • 1/4 cup fine cracked wheat (or bulghar)
  • 1/2 cup each of parsley, mint leaves and corriander leaf (cilantro), coarsely chopped fresh or dried
  • 2/3 cup cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • 3-4 tsp. lemon juice or to taste
  • Salt to taste

Heat oil in heavy soup pot over medium heat. Saute onion until tender. Add garlic, paprika and cayenne, cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add tomato puree and stock or water. Bring to simmer and add salt and cracked wheat. Cover, reduce heat and simmer gently, stir occasionally until cracked wheat is cooked, about 30 minutes (15 minutes if using bulghar). Remove from heat and cool slightly. Transfer soup to blender or food processor (optional). Add parsley, cilantro and mint; blend until almost smooth. Return soup to pot, stir in chickpeas and reheat. Add lemon juice and salt to taste. Serve.


Serves 4-6Usually served after sundown during Ramadan, this Palestinian lentil and rice dish is truly superb.

  • 1 cup brown lentils, sorted and rinsed or 1 (19 oz) can lentils
  • 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 cup dried brown or white rice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt or to taste
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • Plain or soy yogurt (optional)

If not using canned lentils, cook dry lentils in 3 cups water until tender for 45 minutes, then drain. Heat oil in large skillet or pot over medium heat. Saute onion until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, pepper, cumin seeds and rice. Saute for 1-2 minutes, stir constantly so spices don¹t burn. Add salt and water, bring to a boil and cover, cooking for 40 minutes for brown rice, 15 minutes for white. Remove from heat, keeping cover on for 10 minutes. Stir cooked or canned lentils into rice, add salt to taste. Serve garnished with plain or soy yogurt, if desired.

Spiced Potatoes & Cauliflower

This Pakistani side dish is usually served with rice or flatbreads.

  • 1 tbsp. clarified butter (ghee) or vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1-2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. ginger, powdered or finely grated
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin powder or seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. cardamom powder or seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1-2 large cooked potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 small head cooked cauliflower separated into florets
  • 2-3 tbsp. reserved cooking water from potatoes and cauliflower
  • Salt to taste

Heat butter or oil in a large skillet or pot over medium heat. Sauté onion until tender. Stir garlic and spices and continue to sauté for a minute. Add vegetables and reserved cooking water. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook until vegetables are very tender for about 5 minutes. Mash slightly with a fork, salt to taste. Serve.

Sources: Food For The Spirit: Vegetarianism & The World Religions ; Steven Rosen, Vegetarian Times, January 1995.

From January/February ’96 Lifelines