The month of Ramadan starts on Thursday evening, and joins other recent religious celebrations — Easter and Passover — that have been remade by the coronavirus.

Ramadan is one of the holiest times of the year for Muslims, who abstain from food and drink all day for the duration. Every evening after sunset, they break their fast with a meal known as iftar, followed by prayers at the local mosque. This year, to uphold social distancing requirements, Muslim families in Maine — an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 Muslims live in the state, according to a 2015 article in the Maine Policy Review — will pray and eat at home. Unless restrictions on gathering are lifted, mosques will remain closed, according to Ahmed Abdiraham, director of the nonprofit Maine Muslim Community Center in Portland.

Typically, “the Mosque is bustling with activities and worship during Ramadan,” Marwa Elkelani, education coordinator at the Islamic Center of Maine in Orono emailed. Last year, “we had iftars every day for students or those who didn’t have families, we had big community potluck iftars opened for the public every Saturday, and taraweeh prayers were done nightly at the Mosque.

“This year, sadly, the Mosque will be closed,” she continued. “This is devastating because Ramadan is such a communal holiday. Iftars are very much a social event, involving extended families, friends, and community members. It is common for people to host others for food and gather as a community for a potluck. Therefore, our ICM Social Committee is trying go put a plan together to feed fasting students and those who need it, but we are still working on the logistics of how to do it while keeping everyone safe.”

Special foods for Ramadan vary by culture. In Djibouti, the daily fast is usually broken by eating dates (to emulate the prophet Muhammad, who broke his fast with three dates), followed by fruit (often a juicy slice of watermelon) and sambusas, a fried meat-stuffed pastry. One Djibouti immigrant who lives in Portland said she was concerned about finding flour, which is needed to make the wrappers for the pastry and has been in short supply during the pandemic. But, she added, she’ll manage: missing ingredients won’t lessen her commitment to Ramadan.


Djibouti Samosas

This recipe for Djibouti samosas, another name for sambusas, is adapted from You can add minced garlic and a minced jalapeno chile pepper to the filling with the onions.

Yield: 24 samosas


2 cups flour

Pinch salt

Water, as needed


2 tablespoons oil

1 pound ground beef

3 onions, finely diced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Salt and pepper, to taste

Oil for frying

To make the dough, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the water gradually, until the mixture forms a stiff dough. Form into a ball and allow to rest while you make the filling.

To make the filling, heat the oil in a frying pan. When it’s warm, add the meat and fry for a few minutes. Add the onions. Season the mixture with the cumin, salt and pepper. Continue to fry until the meat is cooked through and the onions are soft.

Roll out the pastry dough on a lightly floured surface. Cut into 4-by-4-inch squares. Put 1 tablespoon of the meat mixture in the middle of each square, then fold over to form a triangle. Seal the edges by pressing them together firmly.

Heat 3-4 inches inches of oil to 350 degrees F in a deep frying pan or deep fryer and cook the samosas on both sides until golden brown and crispy. Cook in batches — do not crowd the pan or the oil temperature will drop. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set on a paper towel to drain off any excess oil. Serve hot.

Harira (Lamb, chickpea and lentil soup)

This soup is traditionally served in Morocco (and many other parts of the Islamic world) to break the Ramadan fast. The recipe is from “Flavors of Morocco: Tagines and other delicious recipes from North Africa” by Ghillie Basan. The recipe calls for a lot of ingredients, but is not difficult to make.

Serves 4 to 6

2-3 tablespoons olive or argan oil

2 onions, chopped

2 celery stalks, diced

2 small carrots, peeled and diced

2-3 garlic cloves, left whole and smashed

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

1 pound lean lamb, in bite-sized cubes

2-3 teaspoons ground turmeric

2 teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons sugar

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons tomato paste

4 cups chicken or lamb stock

1 (14-oz) can chickpeas

1 (14-oz) can chopped tomatoes

2/3 cup brown or green lentils, rinsed

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Small bunch flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

Small bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped

1 lemon, quartered, for garnish

Bread, to serve

Heat the oil in a deep, heavy-based saucepan. Stir in the onions, celery and carrots and cook until the onions begin to color. Add the smashed garlic and cumin seeds and toss in the lamb. Cook until lightly browned. Add the spices, sugar and bay leaves and stir in the tomato paste. Pour in the stock and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid, and simmer for 1 hour, until the meat is tender.

Add the chickpeas, chopped tomatoes and lentils to the pan and cook gently for a further 30 minutes, until the lentils are soft and the soup is almost as thick as stew. Top up with a little water, as necessary, as the lentils will absorb most of it. Season the soup with salt and pepper and add most of the parsley and cilantro.


Qatayef is a traditional Arabic pastry served at Ramadan. Do Marketing/

Serve the soupy stew piping hot, sprinkled with the remaining herbs. Serve with wedges of lemon to squeeze over it and with bread for dipping.


Qatayef, Middle Eastern dessert dumplings filled with either a nut mixture or sweetened cheese, serve as special treats during Ramadan because they provide “some sugar and an energy boost of a long day of fasting,” according to Marwa Elkelani, education coordinator at the Islamic Center of Maine in Orono. This is the recipe she uses. It’s a project, so allow yourself some time.

Simple Syrup:

3 cups sugar
3 cups water
Juice of 1 lime

Qatayef Dough:

2 ½ cups warm water, separated

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons powdered milk
Pinch of powdered vanilla

Canola Oil (for frying)

Cheese Filling:

½ cup ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon mozzarella cheese
1 tablespoon  sugar
Pinch powdered vanilla

Nut Filling:

1 cup almond slivers
1 cup hazelnuts
1 cup walnuts
4 heaping tablespoon pine nuts
¼ cup unsweetened coconut shreds
¼ cup golden raisins
Pinch powdered vanilla

To make the Simple Syrup, combine the sugar and water in a pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Once the syrup is at a rolling boil, squeeze the lime into the mixture. Continue boiling until mixture starts to thicken to the consistency of syrup. Remove from heat and let cool. This makes more than you’ll need: store the extra simple syrup and reuse for a second round at the end of cooking.

To make the dough, stir together 2 cups of the warm water with the yeast and the sugar. Combine well to be sure all the yeast is wet. Let sit for 5 minutes while you mix dry ingredients. Sift the flour. Whisk in the powdered milk and vanilla powder.

When the yeast thickens and you start to see small bubbles forming, mix the yeast mixture with the dry ingredients. Rinse out the bowl that held the yeast with the remaining ½ cup of warm water to get all the yeast out. Add this to the batter and whisk together until just combined. You will start to notice more bubbles — you’re on the right track! Place the batter in a dark place for 30 minutes to let it rise.

Grease a griddle and set it to medium high heat. Pour ¼ cup of batter onto the griddle and cook until the moisture on the top dries up. Cook on only 1 side. Do not flip. Remove from griddle and let cool. Repeat this step until you have used all of your batter.

To make the nut filling, toast the almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts over medium heat, stirring often to prevent burning. Once the nuts have achieved a nice golden hue and are aromatic, remove from the heat and let them cool. Add the nut mixture to a food processor to chop. Do not over process or it’ll turn to paste; you want a coarse texture with chunks throughout. Add the pine nuts, coconut, raisins, and vanilla to the nut mixture. Stir to combine. Store the extra nut mixture for a second round of qatayef.

To make the cheese filling, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Refrigerate until you are ready to fill the dough.

To assemble and fry the gatayef, take a qatayef shell and place about 1 tablespoon of filling on its uncooked side. Carefully fold the shell over and pinch the edges together, taking care to neither squeeze out the filling nor split the dough open. Repeat until all the qatayef are constructed.

Fill a deep frying pan with 2-3 inches of canola oil and place over medium-high heat until hot. Carefully place qatayef into the hot oil; do not crowd the pan. Fry on each side for 3 minutes, or until golden brown. Immediately remove the qatayef from the frying pan and place into the simple syrup. Toss well, remove and let drain in a colander until any excess syrup is removed.

Garnish with your choice of pistachios, cinnamon, dates, or whipped cream and serve.

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