Muslims in the central San Joaquin Valley are getting ready for Ramadan, including submitting their favorite recipes for a special Ramadan cookbook.
The Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno is compiling its first cookbook as a fundraiser. The goal is to feature 300 recipes that reflect the community — a little sweet and a little spice.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim year, a period of daily fasting from just before sunrise to sunset for about 30 days. Each year, Ramadan begins the day after the first sighting of the crescent moon by the naked eye. Moonsighting.com projects the first sighting will be June 28, which means Ramadan would start June 29.
Islam teaches Muslims during the holy month to show discipline and restraint through fasting and empathizing with the less fortunate by performing good deeds as well demonstrate reverence for the Prophet Muhammad.
Dates play a significant part of Ramadan because they are the food typically used to break the fasting after sundown.
Muslims also are encouraged to end fasting in community prayer at special events.
The Islamic center, the Valley's largest Muslim congregation, hosts events during Ramadan that bring Muslims together as well as unite them with non-Muslims in the community.
Imam Seyed Ali Ghazvini of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno believes the cookbook is a creative way for people to understand Ramadan.
"Ramadan has many aspects — spirituality, social, community, and it has a great association with food for people with the Middle East and East," he says. "Sharing food is an essential part of our culture, especially during Ramadan.
"It's the sharing season. Part of our culture is to open the food table to everyone. We call it, the month of 'God's generosity.' "
Rebecca Al-Haider, an Islamic center board member, had the idea for the cookbook.
All Ramadan activities end with the festival celebration of Eid al-Fitr. She says her attendance at these events gave her a new appreciation for diverse foods.
"We have many people here from many countries — Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan — and people always comment how good the food is," she says. "I wanted to know the recipes and thought others would want them."
The center also has members of Mexican descent. So, she says, the cookbook could feature non-Middle East dishes, such as chili rellenos and enchiladas.
Al-Haider has submitted a peach cobbler dish that is meaningful to her family. Her uncle, Donnie Headrick, grows peaches in his Hanford orchard, and her grandmother, Helen Headrick, taught her how to can peaches.
"I have good memories of my grandmother also putting them in a blender and pouring them over pancakes," Al-Haider says.
The Islamic center began seeking recipes in April. Al-Haider set a goal to complete the hard-cover cookbook by the start of Ramadan. But she needs more time.
"Members don't always write recipes down; they put in a hand of this (ingredient) and throw it in," says Al-Haider, adding she is visiting homes to write down the recipes as members prepare the dish.
The new deadline is Aug. 1. Now, the cookbook will be sold in October at the Islamic center's annual Community Celebration and Bazaar for Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest periods of the Muslim calendar.
Other active members have offered recipes that are family traditions.
Zarin Naqvi submitted a creamy spinach broccoli with potato dish that has a kick with green chili and peppers. She learned it by watching her mother, Ashraf Rizvi, prepare the dish at their home in Pakistan.
"I was the youngest; I never cooked," Naqvi says. "But I saw my mom cooking. I always saw her cooking good food. We loved good food."
She says many people don't like broccoli by itself. So the potatoes, green chili and peppers add a little kick to the dish.
Zakee Naqvi says his mother's broccoli dish is his favorite.
"It's the taste, plus it's healthy," says Naqvi, who attends Willow International Community College. "So I can eat as much as I want."
Asghar Ali, an accountant, has submitted a chicken pilaf biryani dish. It also can be substituted with lamb, beef or goat.
He says he also learned to cook from watching his mother, Bilquis Begum, in India and Pakistan.
The key, he says, is preparing the gravy with many spices, including cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, bay leaf and saffron.
Ali says, "It's a very common dish, especially at parties, and it's become so popular. Everyone loves it."