RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
It's Ramadan, the month when Muslims around the world fast from sun-up to sundown as a spiritual discipline. Each day the fast is broken with a celebratory meal called an iftar. Ramadan falls at a different time each year, and because this year it falls in August, that makes for long, hot days without food or water. It's a big commitment.
We've called a Muslim foodie, Yvonne Maffei, for some tasty ways to manage a summer fast. She writes the food blog MyHalalKitchen.com.
Ms. YVONNE MAFFEI (Blogger): We're spending around 16 hours a day fasting. That means that we're not having anything to eat or drink. So during the times when we are eating - which is after the sun goes down - we have to really hydrate ourselves. So I always suggest people have lots of water-filled foods like squash, watermelon, things like that because they give you lots of water as you're eating them.
MONTAGNE: In fact, Maffei has a recipe that could help anyone beat the heat.
Ms. MAFFEI: I've developed a recipe called a honeydew cooler, which is one of my favorites. And basically it's just half of a honeydew melon chopped up with a small guava, and those are kind of hard to find in a lot of stores, but if you go to an ethnic or Hispanic store, you'll tend to find them pretty often. So we have chopped honeydew melon, a small guava, a half of a mango and a fourth a cup of orange juice. And just put it in a blender, process it for about 30 seconds and you've got this really refreshing drink that is so tasty. Fruits that you wouldn't think to really mix together, but it's really delicious and it's very tropical.
MONTAGNE: Let me pick a couple of recipes that you have for the iftar dinner. You've got a recipe for hanger steak with mango salsa.
Ms. MAFFEI: Beef is just an excellent source of protein and iron that we need, and we lose a lot of that when fasting. So I like to put a thin steak on the grill. It's not really a very heavy steak because hanger steak is usually cut pretty thin and it cuts really fast. And pair that with a mango salsa which is just tomatoes, chopped mango, white onions and some lime juice. It's really refreshing, and you can have that with a side of rice or couscous maybe. It gives you some energy rather than a sugar crash later on.
MONTAGNE: The most traditional way, I understand, to break the fast is with a date. Tell us why.
Ms. MAFFEI: Well, the reason that there's a tradition in the Muslim world to break the fast with dates is because that's the tradition of the prophet Muhammad. Peace be upon him. That can be any kind of date. Interestingly enough, it has just the right amount of sugar in it to bring your body's glucose levels up. Because when you're - towards the end of your fast, you feel a little bit kind of lightheaded, a little bit off, you know. You really need something in your body, and then as soon as you have those dates, you start to feel a little bit more alive again.
MONTAGNE: And if you go to our website, you'll find a recipe for dates and cream with chopped pistachios and orange zest.
Another key moment during Ramadan is the first meal of the day, what you eat to make it to sunset. Yvonne Maffei has a couple of strategies for the morning meal, the suhoor.
Ms. MAFFEI: We set about three alarms in our house to make sure that we don't miss it, because you have to get up around 3:30 in the morning to have time to prepare a meal, sit down, eat it, and stop eating by around 4:30.
MONTAGNE: That being sunrise, right?
Ms. MAFFEI: Yes, that being sunrise. So in our house, you know, it's not just cereal and milk. I mean, that will never get us through the day. It's things like eggs or even vegetables, fruits, bananas, even smoothies in the morning. I have my cup of coffee at the very end. I figure if I don't have enough time for it, that can go, but the food, I have to have it.
And Ramadan is not meant to be a hardship on us, so we're encouraged to have these meals.
MONTAGNE: As can be told by this conversation and these recipes you've just described, Ramadan isn't only about not eating. In some respect, I would think it's a time to actually enjoy the taste and the experience of food even more.
Ms. MAFFEI: I would agree. I think that when you break your fast, you realize how much gratitude we need to have for the miracle of food. I mean, it is an absolute miracle that we have such variety on our plates, that we have any food at all. The fact that, you know, a seed can be planted in the ground and becomes a pepper or a tomato. That's really a beautiful thing, and I think when you go without it all day long you realize what you've been missing. You start to really savor things, and so some of my best meals are at the iftar time.
MONTAGNE: Yvonne Maffei writes the blog, My Halal Kitchen. Thank you very much for joining us.
Ms. MAFFEI: Thank you for having me.