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A flowery Eid

There is an old Chinese proverb that says, "When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other." It stands as a poetic reminder that the presence of beauty is essential for our lives and our souls. And what other object screams 'beauty' louder than the fragile flower, in its full bloom?

They say, a flower is a gift for all occasions, something that can lift the heart even in the gloomiest of days. And it makes for excellent home decor! Right now though, in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan, people are tending to spend a bit more on the “bread” rather than the “lily”. Plus, due to the ongoing late monsoon, the flower industry of Bangladesh is facing a seasonal recession.

“We are currently facing the worst season for flower sales, but it is expected to increase after 27 Ramadan,” said a flower retailer at Shahbagh. Although many other places around town have also become flower hubs nowadays -- Gulshan for example -- Shahbagh still remains the flower centre of not only Dhaka but all of Bangladesh. That means people buying flowers in Khulna are actually buying flowers supplied from Shahbagh.

Every morning, starting from as early as 3 am, truckloads of flowers are transported from all the nurseries and farms around Bangladesh to Shahbagh, perhaps the one and only market for flowers in the country. A wholesale market is set up where flower sellers come to restock. These flowers' prices are obviously lower than the retail prices.

Supplies of flowers come from Jessore, Gazipur, Savar, etc. One would be surprised at the variety that is being produced locally these days. Aside from the common flowers like roses, tube roses and marigolds, we have also started farming flowers like orchids and gladiolas locally. There are also imported counterparts of these flowers in the market (which last longer), but due to their high prices, they do not see as much sales as local flowers. A single imported lily can cost between Tk300-320 alone. And even that is subjected to a two to three-fold price hike during special occasions like Valentine's Day or the Bangla and English new year festivals!

There is no doubt that flower prices will increase during Eid. Although flowers and Eid do not seem to go hand in hand, it is not wise to question the utility of flowers in this religious month, because beauty is a necessity; a necessity that can now be filled with the utmost ease. All you need to do is go into a flower shop, pick the flowers you like and make your own bouquet to liven up the living room.

Or, you could buy one of those fancy ready-made bouquets to give to someone you love. Although the application of a flower is potentially endless, its lifetime is very short. But, perhaps a solution is achievable.

Flower preservatives are not complex high-grade medicines that only top brass scientists can conjure. They are simply high-energy diets fed to cut flowers to increase their longevity. That being the case, even you can try to make it. Instead of regular water, here is a simple recipe for feeding your flowers.

To 1 litre of water add:
1 tsp of bleach
2 tsp (10 g) of sugar
1 tsp (5 ml) of vinegar, or
3 pinches (0.3g) of citric acid.

By Apon Zahir


Eid dilemma

I do not like being an adult especially during festive times. I have given it much thought but it all boils down to one thing; stress and not being able to comprehend it or manage it intelligently.

For us adults, Eid now holds a different meaning; for once it's definitely an added pressure to the already miserable life you are leading.

Starting from wading -- for this year Eid coincides with late Monsoon -- to walking, because every vehicle on the road is always at a standstill, and cursing your way through the utterly collapsed traffic system, to accommodating the whims of a bored teen at home, to Eid budgeting and earmarking all your money for others -- and not to forget the almost abnormal workload to bring out the best magazine in town; unfortunately between all these pressure situations I have frazzled out this year.

I feel at a loss, I did nothing right. The permanent frown on my face tells you only half the story. The rest I will simply mention here because I feel I need to let go of all the pent up issues that I have inside of me; just so that I could enjoy my Eid breakfast of mejbani beef, crisp parathas and semolina with khirsha on top. But imagine how pathetic life has now become that Eid simply means what I place on my table.

Well I try to look at it this way, if I am to twiddle about my looks for the morning, afternoon and night, or count my eidi and hang out with friends at ice cream joints then my home will crumple down.

The hubby, who doesn't care two cents about how the fort is being held all through the year and festivals to him are nothing but a weekend, or the daughter who preaches green living and shuns the bourgeois way of life will, for one thing, feel let down.

Strangely Eid breakfast is the only time when they feel a tad hypocritical and a small tingling guilt nudges them to sit together and appreciate the flowers, the shinning cutlery, and the lace table cloth and all.

And I, the all-time loser, thrive on such moments when they relish the carefully planned menu and compliment the house help decked in all her finery. Yes I take pride in that too because amid all these I could bring her joy by presenting her that silver bangle she demanded even when prices are skyrocketing. Her happiness makes me feel upbeat even for a split second.

On top of that the mum and the mum-in-law both adding the mandatory pressure of must-visit-and-have-a-meal-together, and the disgruntled uncles of both the husband's and mine must be pacified by us having tea with them. Then you have to visit the sick grandmamma or an aunt.

Well these are Eid responsibilities that must be done.

And by the time I finally find time to catch a breath and feel like having a cup of coffee at some fancy place with the only grand that I could actually spend on me and which was in reality a left over in the Eid budget bag, I am faced with torpedoes from all sides. As if it was my cruel, vicious plan to make my family go through all the salaams and bowls of firnis. Just to let you in on a little secret -- when I cannot make it to the coffee place, I feel happy that those two spoilsports didn't have it their way either of spending the day shooting villains and playing Mass Effect part II.

Anyway, all in all Eid is no fun now, and I wish time machines were a reality; then, even if I had to sell my soul I would go back to the days when Eid was spent happily with Baba hugging me and taking away my sorrows and I was carefree and where adult Eid chores were never a probability.

-- Raffat Binte Rashid


Eid recipe

By Shawkat Osman

The food that Muslims all over the world eat today is hugely influenced by the food of the Middle East, which evolved under the influence of all the Mediterranean (middle of the earth!) countries under Arab political influence. It is more so during Ramadan that Muslims all over the world break their fasts with traditional Middle-Eastern food.

The “spice trade” of the Arabs not only revolutionised the food habits of the world but also set a trend that changed the political map of the world. Bengal's aubergine, banana, lemon and sugarcane, Kashmir's saffron, Malabar's pepper and other spices, Sri Lanka's cinnamon, Sumatra's nutmeg, Africa's tamarind and China's noodles to name a few, are today's world cuisine's ingredients all due to Arab meddling


Before you start to cook prepare the two “masala” spice mixes:

Baharat means "spice" in Arabic, derived from the word bahar, which means pepper, so it is a mixed spice with black pepper. It is an all-purpose spice mix used in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine and found in many prepared savoury dishes. There are many different variations, all based on the basic ingredients of black pepper and allspice. Some mixes might include paprika, coriander seeds, sumac, nutmeg, cumin seed, or cardamom seed. This recipe is basic, if you like; you can fiddle with it by adding some of the other spices mentioned.

¼ cup black peppercorns
¼ cup allspice (kebab chini)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Grind the peppercorns and allspice together and blend with the cinnamon and nutmeg. Store in a jar in your spice rack, away from sunlight. It will lose pungency as time goes by, but properly stored, it can be good for many months.

Tabil, prounced "table" in Arabic meaning "seasoning” it is one of the spice mixes brought to Tunisia in 1492. Although the Muslim kingdom of Granada fell in 1492, it was not until 1609 to 1614 that the wholesale expulsion of the Moriscos (Muslim converts to Christianity) occurred, when they left in droves for Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. Today tabil, closely associated with the cooking of Tunisia, features coriander seeds and is pounded in a mortar and then dried in the sun and is often used in cooking beef or veal.

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped and dried in the open air for 2 days or 2 tsp garlic powder
¼ cup coriander seeds
1 tbsp caraway (shah zira or Iranian jeera) seeds
2 tsp red chilli powder

In a mortar, pound the garlic with the coriander, caraway, and red chilli powder until homogenous. Store in the refrigerator or freezer. Keep in the refrigerator if using fresh garlic for up to two months or indefinitely if using powdered garlic, although the pungency will decline as time goes by. Makes about ¼ cup.

Fish with orange sauce
This is an instructive recipe both in gastronomic terms and in terms of historical influence. Most food writers assume that many elements of Sicilian food derive from Spanish influence after the expansion of the Aragonese kingdom into Sicily after the defeat of the Angevin in 1282.

According to this theory a Sicilian preparation such as “fish in orange”, would be seen as Spanish-influenced. But both Spain and Sicily were under Arab rule during the centuries before the rise of Aragon and at approximately the same time, Arab rule in Sicily ending several hundred years sooner than in Spain.

The Islamic civilisation of Spain and Sicily had many things in common, including a relatively closely related cuisine. Cooking fish with orange juice was typical of court cooking in 15th century Italy. The original inspiration for using oranges as food flavouring was Arab as we see in the naranjiyya of the thirteenth-century “Baghdad Cookery Book”.

1 kg potatoes
12 tbsp butter, at room temperature
½ cup hot milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 kg bhetki fish, cut into 6 slices
2 oranges, peeled and sliced
Juice from 2 oranges

Place the potatoes in their peels in a large pot and cover by several inches with cold water. Turn the heat to medium and once the water starts to boil, cook the potatoes until there is no resistance when pierced by a skewer, about 25 minutes. Drain and peel.

Push the potatoes through a food mill or strainer into a pot with 8 tbsp (1 stick) butter. With a wooden spoon, beat the potatoes with the butter while slowly adding the hot milk. Season with salt and pepper. The potato puree should be quite thick.

Preheat the oven to 190 C. Butter a 9 x 12-inch baking dish and spread the potato puree over the bottom, right up to the sides. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Layer the fish slices to cover the potato puree. Salt and pepper the fish and place 2 or 3 thin slivers of butter on each slice, using 2 tbsp of the butter in all. Cover with the orange slices. Cover with a sheet of aluminium foil and place in the oven for 40 minutes.

When the baking is nearly completed (when the fish feels springy-firm when poked), melt the remaining butter in a small skillet. Season with salt and pepper, and then add the orange juice. Cook over medium heat until it is syrupy, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the baking pan from the oven, pour the sauce on top, and serve directly from the pan.

Makes 6 servings

Upside-down rice and eggplant casserole
Upside-down dishes have a long history. In the 13th century Arabic cookbook known as the “Baghdad Cookery Book”, a chapter is devoted to fried, marinated, and "maqluba" (turned) dishes. This Palestinian recipe for “maqluba” is a rice and eggplant casserole made with richly succulent braised lamb and tomatoes. When the casserole is inverted, the top is bright red from the tomatoes that cover golden eggplant.

2 medium-size eggplant (about 1 kg), peeled and slice 1/ 2-inch thick
5 tbsp plus 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 kg boneless lamb, trimmed of as much fat as possible and cut into pieces
1 tbsp baharat
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp freshly ground kebab chini
Pinch of ground cinnamon
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
3 cups water
6 cups pure or virgin olive oil
3 large ripe tomatoes (about 750 g), sliced
1½ cups long-grain rice, rinsed well or soaked in water to cover for 30 minutes and drained
1 cup boiling water

Lay the eggplant slices on some paper towels and sprinkle generously with salt. Leave them to drain of their juices for 30 minutes, and then pat dry with paper towels.

In a large skillet, heat 5 tbsp of the olive oil over medium-high heat, then cook the onion until yellow, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-low; add the lamb, baharat, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp of the pepper, the kebab chini, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and brown for 10 minutes, turning the lamb. Add the water to barely cover the lamb and cook until the lamb is very tender, about 2½ to 3 hours, adding a little water to keep the skillet from drying out. Remove the lamb from the skillet with a slotted ladle or skimmer, getting as much of the onion as you can and leaving behind the fat.

Meanwhile, preheat the frying oil to 190 C in a saucepan. Deep-fry the eggplant slices in batches until golden brown, 7 to 8 minutes, turning once. Drain and reserve on paper towels.

Lightly oil the bottom of a round, heavy-bottomed casserole 10 inches in diameter with a tight fitting lid with the remaining extra virgin olive oil and arrange the tomatoes slices on the bottom, overlapping or double layering if necessary. Sprinkle a handful of the rice on top of the tomatoes. Layer the lamb on top, and then layer the sliced eggplants on top of the meat. Press down with the back of your hand. Pour the rice on top and spread it evenly, pressing down again with the back of your hand, add 1 tsp salt, the remaining ½ tsp pepper, and the boiling water. Cover tightly and cook over low heat until the rice is tender and the liquid absorbed, about 1 hour. Don't check too often, maybe twice during the whole cooking time. The liquid in the casserole should not be boiling vigorously, so reduce the heat to very low.

When the rice is done, take off the lid, place a large round serving platter over the top of the casserole, and carefully invert in one very quick motion, holding both sides very tightly. Slowly and carefully lift the casserole. Serve.

Makes 6 servings

Adana Kebab
Adana is a city in south-eastern Turkey in the middle of the fertile Cilician (Çukurova) Plain. Its history is ancient; this was the area of the Hittite empire (c. 1800 B.C.E.). The cuisine of Adana has some influence from nearby Syria, but its most famous contribution to Turkish cuisine is the Adana kebab or köfte. Adana's interest in spicy foods might have a medieval origin for in the time of Marco Polo the nearby port of Ayas was an important transhipment place for Asiatic spices and wares; the Venetians, perpetually mesmerised by spices, even had a bailo (consul) there.

750 g ground lamb
750 g ground veal/beef
4 tsp red chilli powder
2 tsp freshly ground coriander seeds
2 tsp freshly ground cumin seeds
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste
2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into tiny pieces
2 nan roti
Soyabean oil for brushing
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced

In a large bowl, knead the lamb, veal, red chilli powder, coriander, cumin, pepper, salt, and butter together well, keeping your hands wet so the meat doesn't stick to them. Cover and let the mixture rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Prepare a charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill on medium-low for 15 minutes. Form the meat into patties about six inches long and two inches wide. Grill until the kofte are springy to the touch, about 20 minutes, turning often.

Meanwhile, brush the nan with oil and grill or griddle for a few minutes until hot but not brittle.

Arrange the kofte on a serving platter or individual plates and serve with nan and sliced onions as a garnish.

Makes 4 servings

Tabikha Stew
In the Maghrib, for both Muslims and Jews, a tabikha can refer to any cooked dish. Algerian Jewish cooking is very similar to that of the Muslims, even though the Algerian Jews' presence in the region predates that of the Arabs by several hundred years. This tabikha is a dish of beef, onions, tomatoes, and red chillies, the name deriving from the Arabic word for “cooked dish”, in this case being cooked a long time over an enclosed fire. The stew can be served with bread.

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large onions, peeled and grated
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp harisa
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
500g beef, trimmed of excessive fat and cubed
500g ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 cups water
¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

In a casserole heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, then cook the onions until translucent, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the garlic and harisa, season with salt and pepper, and stir to mix well. Add the beef and brown on all sides for 2 to 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and water. Stir, reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook for 45 minutes. Add the coriander and cook until the meat is tender, another 45 minutes.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

In Palestine, a favourite dish made by the peasants is musakhkhan, which literally means “something that is heated”. The Greek name moussaka may have evolved from this Arabic word musakhkhan. Musakhkhan is made by cooking chicken until tender and succulent with an abundant amount of onions. Some Palestinian cooks use more spices, such as allspice or saffron, and garnish the top with fried pine nuts. Once the chicken is cooked, it is wrapped in thin shrak bread, (lavash) but you can use “rumali roti” in its stead.

1 chicken (about 2 kg)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1½ kg onions, peeled and sliced thin
¼ cup sumac or aam chur (dried green mango)
4 rumali roti

Cut the chicken up into two breasts, two thighs, two legs, and two wings. Salt and pepper the chicken.

In a large, deep casserole, heat ¼ cup of the olive oil, then lightly brown the chicken on all sides over a medium heat, about 20 minutes. Remove and set aside. Add the remaining ¼ cup olive oil to the casserole and cook the onions until translucent, about 35 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the sumac (or aam chur) and cook for 2 minutes to mix.

Preheat the oven to 190 C. Cover a 9 x 12-inch baking dish with two rotis. Spoon half the onions over them, then arrange the chicken on top of the onions and cover with the remaining onions and the juices from the casserole. Cover with the remaining two rotis, tucking in the sides and spray with water. Bake until the chicken is very tender and almost falling off the bone, about 90 minutes. Before the top cover of bread begins to burn, spray with water again or cover with aluminium foil.

Makes 6 servings



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