British Columbia·Video

A family from Syria shares their rituals and recipes during the holy month of Ramadan

Mariam Herro, who came to Canada from Syria with her family, says she wants to dispel the notion that fasting during Ramadan is something that has to be endured.

New short film offers intimate glimpse into B.C. family's Ramadan rituals

A Feast For Ramadan shows how a Surrey, B.C., family comes together to break their fasts during Ramadan. (Eva Anandi Brownstein/CBC Creator Network )

A new short documentary offers a glimpse into the life of a Surrey, B.C., family during the holy month of Ramadan. 

Muslims taking part in Ramadan fast between dawn and dusk, but can eat meals after sunset and before sunrise.

Mariam Herro, who came to Canada from Syria with her family, says she wants to dispel the notion that fasting during Ramadan is something that has to be endured.

"I really don't want people to think we are suffering," she said.

WATCH | A glimpse into Ramadan rituals with a Surrey, B.C. family

Herro's mother, Eno Abo Sen, says Ramadan is about discipline. 

"It teaches you how to be better, how to forgive, how to feel for others, how to have a big heart," she said.

It's also a time for connection. The film shows how come sundown, Herro's family comes together to break their fast.

"At the end of the day, you don't want to end your fasting alone," Herro said. 

Their meals, which is featured in the documentary, A Feast For Ramadan, often begin with dates, and can include dishes such as fattet, which consists of yogurt, chickpeas, tahini and garlic, and ouzi, rice and minced meat wrapped in filo pastry.

One of the dishes their meals often include is ouzi, which consists of rice and minced meat wrapped in filo pastry. (Eva Anandi Brownstein/CBC Creator Network)

The family came to Canada in 2016 as refugees after Syria's descent into civil war.

Abo Sen is a longtime member of Tayybeh, a Syrian catering company in Vancouver. Herro is studying journalism at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in the hopes of sharing the story of people in Syria and shedding light on the complexities of war and displacement.

Marian Herro and Enas Abo Sen came to Canada from Syria in 2016. (Eva Anandi Brownstein/CBC Creator Network)

As they've adjusted to life in Canada, they've also adjusted to how they celebrate Ramadan. In Syria, Ramadan is commonly observed, while in Canada, they may be the only family in their neighbourhood celebrating the holy month, Herro said, which can be challenging. 

One constant during Ramadan is starting each day with suhoor, a meal eaten before sunrise, followed by prayer. 

"This is what Ramadan means for us," Herro said. "It's a new start."

Recipes 

Ouzi

Ingredients

• 2 tsp olive oil 
• 2 small red onions, diced 
• 3 cloves garlic, crushed 
• 500 grams minced lamb 
• 1 tsp allspice or seven spices 
• 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
• 4-5 cardamom pods or 1/2 tsp cardamom powder 
• 1/2 to 1 tsp salt 
• 1/2 tsp black pepper to taste 
• 2 cups basmati rice 
• 3.5 cups water 
• 200 grams frozen peas 
• 200 grams frozen carrots 
• 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or almonds 
• 1 package filo pastry sheets, thawed 
• 2 tbsp melted ghee (or butter)

Preparation

• In a large skillet over medium high heat, add the olive oil and diced onions and cook for 3-4 minutes until onions are soft. 

• Add the crushed garlic and cook for a further minute or so, then add the minced lamb. 

• Cook for a minute, breaking apart any clumps of meat with a wooden spoon, then add all the spices (seven spice or allspice, cinnamon, cardamom, salt and black pepper). Continue cooking for 6-8 minutes until meat is all cooked through and brown, with no pink bits remaining.

• Soak the basmati rice for 15-20 minutes, then drain and rinse with water until water runs clear. 

• In a large saucepan, add the minced meat, the drained basmati rice, the frozen peas and carrots, and 3.5 cups of water. Sprinkle with a big pinch of salt, pepper, and some additional allspice or seven spices. Stir to combine. 

• Bring the contents of the saucepan to a boil, uncovered, then cover with a tight-fitting lid, reduce heat to a low simmer, and simmer for 20 minutes or until water is absorbed. Remove pan from heat but let it sit covered for an additional 10 minutes, then uncover and fluff with a fork. Mix in the toasted pine nuts or almonds, and let rice cool before wrapping it with filo dough.

Assembly

Heat oven to 180 C.

Choose a small dessert bowl that'll be the approximate size of each individual wrapped rice parcel. Brush the inside of the bowl with melted ghee to prevent the pastry from sticking. Brush ghee between each sheet of filo to make it crunchy and prevent them from sticking, then fill with the rice and meat mix. Each ouzi will take 2 to 4 sheets of filo.

Once the mounds have been assembled (you've finished all the rice) brush the mounds with melted ghee and place on a greased baking sheet, and bake at 180 C for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Fattet

Ingredients

• 2 cups dry chickpeas (not canned)
• 3 cups plain yogurt 
• 2 tbsp tahini 
• 1/2 lemon, juiced 
• 1 to 2 garlic cloves, crushed 
• 1 pinch cumin 
• 1 pinch white pepper (optional) 
• 1 pinch salt 
• 4 to 5 small pita loaves 
• 2 tbsp ghee 
• 2 tbsp chopped almonds or pine nuts 
• 1 pinch paprika or cayenne pepper (optional for garnish) 

Preparation

• Soak the chickpeas overnight. Rinse well several times under cold running water, then place them in a large pot.

• Cover the chickpeas with about twice their own volume of water, bring to a boil, then lower the heat. Simmer them for one hour until tender. Add the cumin and a small dash of olive oil. (Freshly cooked chickpeas are preferable, but in a pinch you could also use canned chickpeas.) 

• Put the yogurt in a large glass mixing bowl. Add the tahini, lemon juice, and crushed garlic. Whisk well. Add salt and white pepper to taste. 

• Cut or rip the pita bread into bite-sized pieces and fry in olive oil. 

• Spread the bread in an even layer in a deep serving platter or bowl. 

• Set aside 1 to 2 tablespoons of the chickpeas for garnish. With a ladle, scoop the remaining hot chickpeas out of the broth and spread them evenly on top of the bread. Pour the yogurt mixture over the chickpeas. Gently stir the layers together with a large slotted spoon. Top with the reserved chickpeas. 

• Heat 3 tablespoons of ghee and fry the chopped almonds or pine nuts until golden, then pour them, along with the hot ghee, over the chickpea-yogurt mixture. Sprinkle paprika and cayenne pepper as garnish and enjoy immediately.


A Feast For Ramadan is directed by Eva Anandi Brownstein and produced in collaboration with the CBC Creator Network, which works with emerging, independent and diverse film and video creators to amplify their stories and perspectives. 

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