In a normal year, Muslims around the world would be crowding into bazaars and markets to prepare for the holy month of Ramadan, which begins Thursday. And many would be planning not only to pray in large groups, but to attend community iftars that might draw thousands of diners.
This year, the coronavirus pandemic means the streets are empty, the mosques are shuttered and Muslims are preparing for a Ramadan that’s absent the celebration of community that usually accompanies iftar, the evening meal to break the fast. On the other hand, Ramadan is traditionally a time for practicing Muslims, as they fast from dawn to sunset, to feel closer to poor and disadvantaged people. With so many people suffering right now, that spirit is particularly important.
Still, the pandemic presents unique challenges this Ramadan. Here are some suggestions for observing it:
— Keep it simple, light and healthy. Sometimes it’s tempting to make heavy dishes for iftar to make up for skipped meals during the day. But we’re probably not as physically active as before the pandemic, and we’re more concerned than usual about staying strong. So keep things simple with such lighter options as red lentil soup or a common Persian vegetarian noodle soup, ashe reshteh.
We all want to avoid unnecessary visits to the supermarket, so try to make meals and dishes that don’t call for many ingredients but are still nutritious. A platter of dried fruits like dates and apricots with nuts is a common appetizer for iftar, for good reason. Canned and dried beans and lentils are perfect because they are packed with fiber. Keep nuts and dry ingredients such as flour, honey and sugar on hand for simple recipes that are suitable for Ramadan.
In general, think about adding more vegetables and protein to your suhoor (pre-dawn) and iftar meals, because you’re not going to eat for about 16 hours straight. And from dusk to dawn, don’t forget hydration: Drink plenty of water and herbal tea and eat fruit high in water, such as watermelon, strawberries and cantaloupe.
— Plan, plan, plan. While fasting, it’s easy to crave everything and cook more than you need, so plan your meals as far in advance as possible to make sure you don’t end up with too many leftovers. That also gives you the opportunity to prepare meals ahead of time, saving time and energy. Prepare a few meals and freeze them.
Planning meals will also help you make a practical shopping list, which is useful when ordering delivery or pickup groceries – and essential when trying to shop efficiently if you’re making the trip to the store. Consider which items – such as those dried fruits, nuts and legumes – you can buy in bulk. And don’t forget about smaller international markets: You can often get what you’re looking for much more quickly than in a large supermarket, and you help a small business at the same time.
If you haven’t had a chance to plan your meals for the next couple of weeks, look at your fridge, freezer and pantry and try to stretch your ingredients for as many days as possible. An easy way to stretch proteins is to serve them in mixed rice dishes such as loobia polo (ground meat, rice and green beans).
— Keep in touch and share. Even while practicing social distancing, you can still enjoy the festivities of Ramadan. Use such videoconferencing tools as Zoom and FaceTime to share the time with family and friends and break your fast together.
In normal times, many Muslims prioritize volunteering and community service during Ramadan. Obviously, this year some of those activities aren’t possible, even as the economic downturn puts many more families in need. If you know anyone who is not as fortunate as you, Ramadan is the perfect time to share what you have with them. Consider delivering a simple homemade meal or paying for their groceries.
— Take your time. Even in a normal year, life takes on a slower pace during Ramadan. Take this time to reflect and find happiness in everyday tasks. It’s never a bad time to be more mindful of what we eat and how we live, so take advantage of the dramatic pause in social activities to make positive lifestyle changes.
While this year will change the character of Ramadan observances for most Muslims, it remains a time to enjoy great food and the company of family and friends (even virtually) as a reward for long days of fasting. You might not be able to get every ingredient or prepare every dish that you might look forward to in a normal year, but remember: As the world endures the pandemic, the sacrifice that fasting represents is more relevant than ever.