To all who are fasting, I’d like to extend warm wishes for a fabulous Ramadan.
If you’ve ever been to Morocco during the month of Ramadan, you’d know that while it’s a holiday about fasting and spirituality, it also affects all aspects of life: business hours, the rhythm of life, clothing, television programs, and people’s mood (drivers, in particular).
Offices operate on horaire continu from 9am to 3pm. Restaurants and cafes close during the day. Markets open from around ten in the morning until about one hour before sundown, and are buzzing with customers dressed in traditional djellabas for the occasion, buying more baghrir and msemmen than they need while shopping on an empty stomach.
Kitchens know more activity than in any other time of the year, with soups and sweets getting very special attention. There is the quintessential harira soup, of course, but all kinds of soups are made to break the fast at sunset for the first meal called f’tour or iftar.
Moroccans usually break their fast with a glass of milk, water, or fruit smoothie and a few dates, followed by soup and a host of sweets such as brewats, chebbakia and sfouf. They take a break for a couple of hours then have dinner. A third and lighter meal called sahour is then enjoyed late at night or early in the morning, anytime between midnight and sunrise.
Time between meals is spent watching comedies and soap operas on various Arab television channels (television gets especially festive during Ramadan and programs are better quality than usual), playing cards, or strolling along boulevards if the weather is nice.
The more devout spend extended time praying in mosques from where chants emanate all night long, lulling you into a mellow sleep. The whole experience is quite unique, entrancing, and otherworldly, in a way.
Sfouf, also called sellou or slillou is a sweet as unique as Ramadan itself. It’s a dessert/snack eaten with a spoon but totally different than pudding, or mousse or ice cream.
It’s in coarse powder form and packed with nutritious ingredients, which are supposed to give those fasting stamina, a bit like an energy bar these days. Sfouf is made with toasted flour, sesame seeds, almonds and aniseeds. It has a delicious, nutty flavor.
This sfouf recipe yields four small servings of about 1/2 cup each. I meant for the quantity to be small so that first-timers can try it first to see what it is then once they fall in love with it (and yes, they will!), they can double or triple the ingredients to make a larger amount.
- 1 cup whole wheat or brown rice flour
- 2/3 cup sesame seeds
- 2/3 cup lightly salted roasted almonds or peanuts
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon anise seed
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Place the flour in the skillet and toast it, stirring frequently, until lightly browned and nutty smelling, about 10 minutes. There will be a lot of smoke emanating from it, which is not to worry about. Transfer to a large bowl. (If using a larger quantity of flour, you’ll need to toast it longer.)
Toast the sesame seeds over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden and fragrant, 2 to 4 minutes.
Place the sesame seeds, almonds, brown sugar, anise seed and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor and grind them into a coarse powder. Add this mixture to the toasted flour and mix.
Stir in the melted butter and toss a couple of times to break any lumps. Serve at room temperature with a cup of coffee, tea, or milk.