The month of Ramadan is upon us and with it comes the age-old debate: which foods are holy enough to live up to the sanctity of this month and which foods nullify your fast for the next seven years?
We have conducted a painstakingly comprehensive poll to lay this debate to rest once and for all. Because this is a Palestine-centric blog, and because Palestinians are responsible for most of the world’s debates, we have thoughtfully elected to filter the poll results so that they only include foods common to Palestinian cuisine.
We have also included photographs of the dishes accompanied by accurate historical information and helpful cooking tips for the reader’s benefit.
Best, counting down
Honorable mentions: Fasoulya Beyda, Fattat ‘Adas, Shishbarak, Bamya, Qidra
5. Warak ‘Enab
Stuffed grape leaf rolls with rice and minced meat
It is the perfect finger food. When properly prepared, the grape leaf provides the astute connoisseur with a refreshing snap, only to give way to an almost creamy blend of rice and meat that is firm enough to chew with glee but soft enough to get lost in those hard to reach crevices of the mouth that people oftentimes rub their tongues along to find remnants of meals past. Although the roll is, proportionately speaking, mainly rice and meat, it is the leaf itself that brings the dish together. We do not recommend investing in a grape vine since they grow faster than even the most parasitic of weeds, but we do encourage consumers to plant the vine in a neighbor’s lawn and use freshly picked leaves from there rather than store-bought leaves.
Jute leaves cooked into an edible slime
This whole meal is mysterious. The plant looks almost identical to mint but it disintegrates into a runny goo when put into boiling water. It works with any meat which is a common sign of suspicion. Plus, it leaves not a single residue on the plates and bowls upon which it is served. It is by all accounts the easiest dish to clean up after. Despite its strange but welcome qualities, most Palestinian families eat mloukhiya at least once during the first week of Ramadan. It is especially championed by Palestinians in the 18-24 age range who ask their mothers not to pour the glop over their plates’ carefully crafted mound of white rice.
3. Mjaddara With Onion
Lentils cooked with rice and topped with sautéed onions
Dated back to the 13th century, this dish catered largely to the nutritional needs of the poor. The protein-rich lentils served as a reasonable substitute for the meat they could only rarely afford. But the hearty dish quickly grew in popularity until even the royal elite craved it. Today, there is no better way to say ‘I love you’ to a person than with a warm plate of mjaddara garnished with browned onion. (Incidentally, there is no better way to say ‘I loathe you and I hope your fast is not accepted’ to a person than with a warm plate of mjaddara with no onion garnish.)
Big couscous balls cooked with chicken in a chicken broth
There was a time when each ball was made by hand. And if it was at all possible, those hands would still be receiving kisses for working so diligently and so delicately to produce carbohydrate-laden spherical balls of heaven. The best part of it all is that the couscous balls expand in your stomach, which means the consumer will remain full and satisfied for at least the next 48 hours. Fasting could never be easier.
A layered casserole with rice, vegetables, and meat
Very few people in this world are capable of making the perfect maqlouba. From the precise layering of the vegetables (eggplant, cauliflower, and potato to name a few) to the patience involved in making it to the masterful pot-flip, there are gaping opportunities for error. But when this “upside-down” dish is made correctly, the consumer will have come as close to perfection as humanly possible. It is a miracle the rice does not melt in the mouth, that it maintains its form despite the amount of flavor and moisture each grain carries. It is the heartiest meal of all and, unlike has-beens masakhan and mansaf, this M dish will not plug your arteries within twenty minutes of consumption.
Worst, counting down
Honorable mentions: Fatayer Za’tar, Msakhan, Mansaf, Fasoulya Khadra, Mahshi Beitinjan
Tripe stuffed with rice and minced meat and stewed in a milky soup with too many probiotic bacteria in it
Think about it. This meal is made from the very same body parts that will soon digest it — that is, if it gets past the inevitable pharyngeal reflex. Please no.
4. Kousa Mahshi
Zucchini stuffed with rice and minced meat and stewed in a tomato broth or yogurt stew
Partly because of the name and that obscene first syllable but mostly because it is a filler food that nobody really looks forward to and instead just accepts, kousa mahshi is the worst. Kousa should not even be allowed into any dignified kitchen in the first place. There is a reason why zucchini gets stuffed before being tossed into a bubbling red or off-white soup: nobody likes the inside. Nobody likes the outside either, which is why, researchers say, nine out of every ten Palestinian families give the lizard-like skins to the oldest male at the table who typically serves as the family’s living food disposal service. May his struggles be eased. Ameen.
3. Mjaddara Without Onion
Lentils cooked with rice but deprived of sautéed onions
Possibly the driest meal of all time, it was initially created, some historians suggest, as a torture food centuries ago in medieval Arabia. Only the most serious offenses would land a prisoner such a meal. And while this does not sound at all like a punishment, it becomes one once the prisoner is deprived of water. Despite years and years of pressure on kings, rulers, to-be-deposed presidents, and new kings to eradicate this meal and any offshoot recipes, it eventually made its way into Palestinian homes where parents serve it to bad kids.
Stuffed cabbage rolls with rice and minced meat
One whiff of this incomprehensibly foul concoction and you will vow to remain fasting for another three days. This dish attempts, unconvincingly, to pass itself off as warak ‘enab. But it is actually so very different, in color, in texture, in flavor, in everything. So really, whoever falls for the deception deserves to eat it.
Green wheat cooked in a way that subtracts the green
Meet the world’s most unwelcome carbohydrate. It comes in various forms — mushy or firm, wet or dry, ghostly grey or putrid taupe — but it will always be flavorless. No amount of salt can ever cure this wheat of its blandness, and when, many generations ago, our wide-eyed ancestors attempted out of pure necessity to give the dish some kind of a kick, they chose a chicken. It was an eternal desecration, drowning such a beautiful beast in a pot of slop. And all to no avail: the chicken did absolutely nothing to improve the taste. If anything, it gave the freekeh a bit of a textured effect, as though the consumer was chewing rubbery bits of what he or she had just regurgitated. To reap the benefits of the holy month of Ramadan, abstain from this heresy of a food.
Chances are you don’t agree with this list. Regrettably, the results are uncontestable.