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Moroccan Style Appetizers for Iftar: the Meal that Breaks the Ramadan Fast

Yesterday was the first Friday of Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims around the world. And there are some really delicious Mediterranean dishes shared at this time of year.

But this Ramadan I’m not sharing our Ramadan meals on social media due to the immense suffering of the people of Gaza, including a nearly 100% rate of food insecurity throughout the entire strip and a famine and starvation occurring in the northern part of the strip, which is likely to worsen (particularly for children), unless there is a cease fire soon.

That said, my dedication writing about food and culinary traditions is what keeps me writing about food and to share recipes and traditions in the hopes of preserving them for future generations as well as to inspire nutritious eating and a healthy way of life overall.

Normally, after a day of fasting from just before sunrise to sunset, families gather at the table to partake in the Iftar, or meal to end the fast. It’s also very often done in communal surroundings such as mosques around the world or outdoors in neighborhood blocks in Muslim countries. People tend to be very intentional about hosting an Iftar or at least sharing their food, holding the belief that there is a reward from God for feeding a fasting person.

our homemade Iftar

Iftar dishes are highly regional and vary throughout the world. Someone in Indonesia will have a completely different Iftar meal than someone in Tunisia, yet all of the food will be Halal (from permissible sources, as dictated in the Holy Qur’an). If you’ve ever been to an Iftar, you’ll probably notice that the food provided is typically from the region of the host; if you’ve never been to an Iftar but are invited by a Muslim to attend one, this is your chance to experience some of the best global cuisine you’ll ever be served outside of a restaurant. Last night, for example, our local mosque served East African cuisine for the community: meatballs in a coconut curry served with Basmati rice and a thick Naan bread. It was tasty, somewhat of a cross between Indian and Thai food in my mind, but nonetheless uniquely East African.

East African Cuisine Iftar served at our local mosque

At home, I typically make Sicilian-style Mediterranean dishes for the main meal or at least something similar. I do tend to make a lot of soups, as they acclimate the body to food after a long day of fasting. For the initial breaking of the fast, everyone around the world will typically consume a date with water, as that is what the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) used to do. For something crunchy and savory (a common treat after having a date and something to drink), I typically make a Moroccan savory pastry with lamb or beef, which is what I’m sharing today. They’re easy to make and you can use a couple variety of wrappers to make them. They’re often called either briouat or briwat in Arab speaking countries (North Africa) and to me, are very similar to the Turkish borek when made with phyllo dough.

Moroccan Style Briouates with Ground Beef, Raisins & Almonds 

Yields 12-14 briouates

Briouats are Moroccan sweet or savory appetizers of phyllo sheets rolled, stuffed with ground meat and aromatic spices, and typically lightly fried in olive oil. You can also use egg roll wrappers which are quite sturdy and can hold a lot of meat and other ingredients, which makes them particularly filling. Any ground meat like beef, veal, turkey or chicken will substitute well for the lamb in this recipe and make great starters to the Iftar meal or serve as any party starter.

Ingredients

4 tablespoons olive oil plus more for frying the briouats

½ cup yellow onion, diced

1 pound ground beef or lamb

1 cup slivered almonds

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

¼ teaspoon fleshy ground black or white pepper, or to taste

¾ cup raisins

2 tablespoons fresh or dried mint leaves, chopped

¼ cup finely chopped fresh or dried parsley

1/2 of one packet of phyllo dough or one pound egg roll wrappers

1 egg, beaten (only if using the egg roll wrappers)

Fresh lemon or lime wedges (optional)

Directions

Heat oil in a large saut. pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent.

Add the meat and the garlic. Stir and cook until the meat has slightly browned then add the almonds and ground spices, including the salt and pepper.

Add the raisins and stir until they become slightly larger in size. Continue to cook for another ten minutes. Add the chopped fresh herbs and cover the pan.

Reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking for an additional 10 minutes, adding a bit of water if necessary.

Remove lid and drizzle meat with olive oil. Set aside to cool.

Using one sheet of egg roll wrapper or 1/4 of a phyllo sheet, place one heaping tablespoon of meat mixture in the center. Bring each side to the center then roll from the bottom upwards. Close by brushing the end with egg wash (egg roll wrappers only- egg wash doesn’t need to be done with phyllo). Repeat this process with all of the wrappers.

Once finished wrapping each one, heat an additional 2-4 tablespoons of oil in a large saut. Pan and fry the briouats. Do not crowd the pan; instead fry only as many as will fit comfortably at one time. Cook for several minutes on each side, or until each side is nicely browned.

Once finished, line a plate with paper towels to capture any excess oil. Serve warm with a dipping sauce and/or fresh lemon or lime wedges.

Enjoy this crunchy appetizer, whether Ramadan or not. Your family, your guests, will love them!

And Ramadan Mubarak to all who observe.

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