We’re more than halfway through the blessed month of Ramadan! It is the month where many Muslims are spiritually charged and seeking closeness and the forgiveness of Allah (swt). It’s a month of worship, forgiveness, and intense cleansing and healing of the mind, body and soul.
The main objectives for most during this holy month is to feed our minds and souls with the bountiful blessings of Duaa (supplication), Salah (prayer) , Zakat (donations) and recitation of the Quran (holy book). However, let us not forget to properly nourish our bodies with the right nutrients!
Muslims around the world are fasting more than 16 hour days, from the moment we hear the Maghrib Athan (call to prayer) at sunset, when Muslims break our fast until the next Imsak (the time at dawn where Muslims begin their new day of fasting), we have roughly about 8 hours or less in which we need to strategically distribute the time for eating, resting, prayer and sleep.
So basically, we need to nail Iftar time with the best meal choices in order to ensure our bodies maintain good health and nutritional balance to endure the long fasting hours during the month of Ramadan.
Here are some of my key tips to help during Ramadan:
Plan your meals ahead! Especially all the multi-tasking men and women out there! If you plan your meals ahead, it will save you time and the unwanted hassle. Thankfully, the bright side of having Ramadan during the summer is the advantage of grilling. Your grill can be your best friend throughout the month. It is quick and easy to marinate your choice of protein ahead of time and throw it on the grill! You can pre-marinate and freeze your poultry, seafood and meats, and thaw it the day you chose to cook it for that night. Additionally, poultry can last in the fridge marinated up to two days, seafood up to three and meat up to five days. Along with your protein, make sure you are prepared with a vegetable such as: broccoli, a salad, asparagus etc and a carb: such as sweet potatoes, rice or pasta.
Include all food groups! It is important to have a full balanced filling meal that contains all the main food groups. Make sure to include your carbs, protein, fruits and vegetables as well as dairy, that is of course, health permitting. Since Iftar is the first main meal of each day for the month, it is necessary for us to make sure we are consuming as much nutrients our bodies need.
Stay hydrated! Just as important your Iftar meal, hydration should not be side tracked by food. We all look forward to the thirst quenching sugary drinks we enjoy breaking our fast with, but be sure to leave plenty of room for water! Sugary drinks are delicious and I do indulge in them from time to time, but our bodies need to be flushed and hydrated with none other than H2O. Water is a fasting Muslim’s best medicine as it helps fight against fatigue and headaches.
Now, back to Iftar time! I have few of my very own fabulous side dishes that will go deliciously with just about anything on the dinner table while also serving as wonderful healthy choices to make sure your meals are well rounded. These side dishes are packed with vitamins, will fill your appetite without tipping the calorie scale, and are super fun and easy to make.
Once your protein choice is taken care of, have fun mixing and matching the rest of the food pyramid with some of these side dishes. Providing a nutritionally rich meal for yourself and your loved ones means you are providing long term strength and support for your body that will in return, significantly help ease the hardship of fasting.
Summer Bean Salad
This dish can be served on the side with just about anything! It is also a good protein option, and a plus to those of you who are not meat lovers or are vegetarians. Beans are known for being rich in protein, but they are packed with fiber, folate, potassium, magnesium, B vitamins and iron just to name a few. Add some of your favorite veggies of choice , and you have yourself an actual full meal in a side dish !
- 1 can organic* black beans
- 1 can organic* red kidney beans
- 1 can organic* chickpeas
- 1 cup steamed loose corn
- 1/2 bunch of chopped cilantro
- 2-3 celery sticks chopped
- 1/2 cup shredded carrots
- 1-2 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 jalapeño pepper chopped
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 lemon
- Pinch of salt (optional)
*Organic is optional but recommended
Rinse the canned beans repeatedly with water and drain well. Add all the ingredients together in one bowl, mix well, and your summer bean salad is ready to enjoy.
This side dish is another one of my very favorites! I must admit, as a child, okra was never at the top of my list of foods to eat. But now as an adult, I can’t get enough of it! And not to mention, the countless health benefits of okra seals the deal. Okra helps us feeling full and curbs our hunger, it is also known to help prevent fatigue, and is packed with nutrients that help strengthen our immune system against diseases such as diabetes and high cholesterol. There are many okra recipes, but today I am sharing one easy and delicious way to make it.
- 2 packs frozen small okra
- 1/2 bunch cilantro chopped
- 1 garlic bulb peeled and sliced
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes sliced in half
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Heat up the olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat and toss in the okra. Keep stirring for a few minutes as it sautés and starts to brown. Add the garlic along with a few pinches of salt, black pepper and turmeric powder. After that, add the cherry tomatoes and stir them well until they soften. Finally, throw in the chopped cilantro and save some to use as garnish at serving time.
Summer Spinach Salad
Spinach is a powerhouse vegetable packed with many nutrients. I personally love eating it in salad form than cooked, with the exception of spinach pies, of course. Spinach is a super vegetable high in vitamin K, C, A, folic acid as well as iron which helps maintain good blood levels and restore energy in our bodies. This spinach salad is so irresistible, simple to prepare and has a ton of nutritional value. It also includes strawberries high in antioxidants, as well as sweet potatoes that are an incredible source of vitamin A, B vitamins, and potassium. The portions for this dish all depend on how many mouths you are feeding. Personally, I can’t have enough of this salad! It’s always good to have extra for a Ramadan late night bite which is what I’d like to call my pre-suhoor suhoor!
- 3 cups baby spinach chopped
- 3-4 strawberries cut into cubes
- 1 large baked sweet potato cut into cubes
- 2-3 tablespoons crumbled feta
- Balsamic glaze
Lay the spinach in a bed in a serving platter. Top with sweet potato, strawberries, walnuts, feta and top with a drizzle of balsamic glaze!
Red Lentil Soup (Shorabit El Adas)
This is by far my absolute favorite soup, and I am sure if you are Middle Eastern and especially Palestinian, you will share a similar sentiment. The flavor of this soup has been instilled into my soul and my tastebuds! The aroma involuntarily takes me back to my childhood, and each time I have it, it brings me absolute comfort and warmth. Lentil soup is a complete meal in of itself. Although it is low in calories, it can be very satisfying and filling. It is also incredibly healthy as it’s packed with many beneficial nutrients, which also makes it a great option as a side dish. It is an excellent source of protein making it another great choice for vegans and vegetarians. It’s high fiber content helps prevent constipation (which is common during the month of Ramadan), and it is great source of iron which helps energize our bodies and increase our metabolism.
- 3 cups red lentils
- 1 cup baby carrots
- 1 large onion chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
- 4 tablespoons oil of choice
- Dash of salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
Measure about 3 cups of red lentils, rinse and drain very well. Fill a large cooking pot with about 3-4 quarts of water and turn on the stove top on high. Drop in the lentils. Add the chopped onions (leave about 1/4 of the onion for the end to sauté), 1 cup baby carrots, salt, pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric powder, 1 teaspoon of cumin powder. Once it starts to boil, bring down the heat to medium and let it keep boiling for a good 30 minutes or until lentils are fully cooked. Once all the ingredients are cooked, use an electric hand blender to puree the lentil along with all of the ingredients in it. In a separate small skillet, heat up your oil and toss in the chopped onions. Once the onions are browned, add them into the pot. Lastly, add the chopped parsley into the pot and your delicious lentil soup is ready to be enjoyed.
These side dishes will add color to your dinner table and will certainly impress your Iftar guests. I always like to try new recipes and love sharing them with everyone, especially when they are beneficial, filling and tasty! May Allah (swt) ease fasting for all of us for the remainder of the holy month!