Religious Recipes: Students Dish their Favorite Holiday Feasts

Courtesy of Ayse GulsenThe ultimate Ramadan dessert is güllaç, according to sophomore Ayse Gulsen.

As Loyola’s school year draws to a close, students are celebrating more than the end of classes — they’re also celebrating Ramadan, Easter and Passover.

All three holidays occur within April this year, an unusual synchronization since Islam, Christianity and Judaism follow different calendars.

These Abrahamic religions share a deep diversity in diet, reflected in the dishes prepared for each holiday.

Nearly half of Loyola’s 2018’s freshman class identified with a faith other than Roman Catholic, according to a brochure made by the department of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs.

The month-long holiday of Ramadan began April 2 and will end May 2. Muslims eat before dawn with a meal called suhoor and fast until dusk with a meal called iftar. They also abstain from drinking water.

Senior Maheen Naeem said she thinks non-Muslims are growing more conscious of religious diversity on campus.

“This year I’ve had the most non-Muslim people come up to me and say, ‘Ramadan Mubarak,’” Naeem, 20, said.

“Ramadan Mubarak” is a common greeting meaning “blessed Ramadan” in Arabic.

Regardless of denomination or diaspora group, most Muslims break their fast with a date. Breaking fasts with a date have been endorsed by both the Sunnah — a collection of sayings and acts by the Prophet Muhammad — and scientific literature. Dates may balance blood glucose levels after 10-14 hours of fasting, according to a 2016 Weill Cornell Medicine study.

“A couple days ago, my professor brought a date to class and she said to me, ‘If you need to break your fast, I have a date for you.’ It’s so thoughtful,” Naeem said.

Naeem said her favorite dishes were Pakistani pakorey — chickpea fritters filled with potato and onion and served with chutney.

Sophomore Ayşe Gulsen said every food she prepares for herself is influenced by her Turkish heritage. She listed stuffed grape leaves, red lentil soup and pide among her favorite foods for Ramadan.

For Gulsen, the ultimate Ramadan dessert is güllaç. Güllaç is a pastry with rosewater, pistachios and pomegranate.

“It was made in the Ottoman Empire,” Gulsen said. “Every Turkish dessert [has] nuts, especially pistachios.”

She said her mother, who grew up in Turkey, couldn’t find cracked pistachios in markets and had to crack them herself.

But Ramadan is more than just fasting and food, Gulsen said.

“It’s a way to clarify everything,” she said. “With your soul, with your body, and with the people around you. It’s a time to focus on your worship and connections to God.”

Sophomore Sarah Haseeb said she associates food with family time, especially during Ramadan.

“Not everyone [in my family] eats dinner at the same time,” Haseeb, 20, said. “The only time we do eat together is when we’re breaking our fast. It’s that shared aspect.”

She shared a recipe for Singaporean rice, a layered dish with noodles, rice and chicken. Despite its name, the dish is Pakistani.

Nick Russel, SJ, a Jesuit scholastic at Loyola, said he thinks Ramadan, Easter and Passover coinciding this year is a beautiful intersection of the different Abrahamic religions.

“It’s a reminder of our connections and our shared faith, our salvation,” Russel said.

Catholics fast on various days of Lent, the forty-day period leading up to Easter, which falls on April 17 this year. They are also encouraged to abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent. Then, on Easter, they celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ by feasting with family and friends.

“Resurrection is about new life,” Russel said. “That’s the most important part of Easter — being together as a larger Catholic community and celebrating life in that community.”

Russel said he likes baking, especially sourdough bread, cookies and cakes. He shared a recipe for cinnamon rolls, which he said his mother used to make for Easter.

Senior Lizzie Hagerty, a member of Loyola’s AMDG Catholic Student group, said her family attends morning Easter Mass and then gets together for lunch.

“There’s a lot of chocolate and a lot of desserts,” Hagerty, 21, said. “A lot of us give up sweets for Lent so we usually pig out on Easter.”

She said her favorite dessert was a strawberry pretzel dish, often made by her Aunt Cherry.

Sophomore Jonathan Nerenberg said homemade food is best for Passover. The Jewish holiday begins April 15 and ends April 23.

He said his mother, despite being vegetarian, makes beef brisket for the holiday and has the family taste it along the way. Nerenberg also said homemade macaroons were superior to store-bought ones.

“When you get a macaroon from the store it’s grainy, but my mom does it with shredded strips of coconut,” Nerenberg, 19, said. “That’s the better way to do it […] I only get the real experience when I’m home.”

Jewish people keep a separate kind of kosher, or dietary laws, for Passover. This means no leavened bread, making the unleavened bread, matzo, a staple food for most Passover meals.

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