It was such a joy to have my mother and nephew visit last week. We had a lot of healthy vegetarian food including summer squash pasta and lentil cakes from Martha Stewart which have a middle eastern flair. I also tried my hand at making Aplets which are the Washingtonian version of Turkish Delight, a common dessert in Albania.
Next week I will make Harira, the fast-breaking stew that many Muslims eat during Ramadan. This year’s Ramadan started at the end of July and will last for 2 more weeks. Since both Albania and the next country on my list, Algeria, are Muslim countries, I thought it would be interesting to learn a little bit about Ramadan. Ramadan is a month devoted to prayer and spiritual reflection. Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. The pre sunrise meal is called suhoor and the post sunset meal is called iftar. Suhoor is generally light, just a few dates, but I read that iftar is often a very big meal or feast.
This article from Huffington Post talks about how Muslim athletes are dealing with the fasting during Ramadan. Since the fasting is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, it is an extremely big deal to observing Muslims. According to FIFA officials, athletes can still compete during the fasting time without compromising athletic performance but the Egyptian athletes are eating during the Olympics with approval from their government.
This article from Al Jazeera said that 3000 Muslim athletes were allowed to avoid the restrictions for the Olympics. Charity is very important for Muslims and some athletes are upping the charity donations to help compensate. I think that’s a great idea. Kind of an interesting thing to think about when you are watching the rest of the Olympics.
In Washington, there is this wonderful company in Cashmere that makes Aplets and Cotlets. These are a very similar treat to Turkish Delight. Turkish Delight is a food that was introduced to many countries via the Ottoman Empire. I intended to make it for Albania, but it is eaten all over the Middle East, Balkans and North Africa. Here’s a picture of the extent of the Ottoman Empire’s conquest.
You can read about the Ottoman Empire at that link. The conquest of these areas by the Turks defined much of Europe and set the stage for later tragedies including the genocide of ethnic Albanians (120,000 to 250,000 deaths) in Kosovo. I was old enough to remember that but not old enough to understand. The Balkans are at an interesting location. They are caught between the Eastern Orthodox church, the Roman Catholic church and the Islamic forces of the Turks. Like the Greeks, they are fiercely independent and from what I read, have a practice of vendettas and feuding.
At any rate, the Turkish influence was extreme and the Albanians converted from Christianity to Islam mainly because of the perks, less taxes, less chance your kids would be taken and forced into the military. Turkish delight is a softer gummy treat. It is flavored with rosewater and has a variety of nuts and flavors. Since I’ve grown up eating Aplets and Cotlets, I decided to try and make those instead of the more traditional Turkish delight. Long story short – sticky, messy, failure.
Luckily at that same time I was trying to find harissa paste in Indianapolis and stumbled upon Saraga International Grocery. It is a tremendously huge grocery with foods from all over the world including some oddities from Africa. I found my harissa and in the same aisle found some packaged Turkish delight. I brought it home and we all had a delicious snack!
This stuff is delicious and mild. I highly recommend it! (as long as you don’t have nut allergies)
The other thing I made this week was supposed to represent Algeria (even though it comes from Martha Stewart). I made Lentil Cakes with Feta-Yogurt Sauce. I used lettuce instead of watercress but it was very flavorful and delicious AND vegetarian.
This next week I hope to make that Harira (tomato lentil soup) and hopefully Makroud (semolina date pastry) if I find semolina flour at the international grocery. I’m also working my way through the Albanian books still. They are pretty heavy and as you might imagine very depressing. There has definitely been a lot of sadness in the world during my lifetime.