The Community I Have Found Online Makes Ramadan Even More Special
Sharing food (like my cheese manakeesh) brings people together during this time of reflection. By swapping recipes and stories online, I’ve found a unique connection with thousands of people — and you can too.
Ramadan is a holy month where Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk. I grew up watching my parents and family observe Ramadan, and when I was old enough to understand the meaning and endure the fast, I started observing it myself by fasting every day for a month.
I fast because it’s one of the five pillars of Islam and being a Muslim. However, I also fast because it teaches me strong will, patience, gratitude and empathy. It’s a reset for my body, mind and soul, and gives me the opportunity to connect with God and my community on a deeper level. With Ramadan being such an incredible time of growth, I always find it helpful to document my experiences and emotions so I can look back over the 30 days and remember the highs and lows and how they made me a better person.
The past two Ramadans have been especially difficult as I fast alone in my home and I’m not able to gather with friends and family to break the fast together. This has been one of the biggest emotionally heightened aspects of the fast. Normally the Iftar meal is communal where I can celebrate the day and rejoice in overcoming its hardships with friends and family.
I’ve found myself leaning on my community recently so that I can make it through a day. It’s comforting to know that when I’m feeling hungry, tired and unmotivated, there are thousands in my community that feel the same way. That sense of unity brings me ease and sympathy to make it through the day.
My Feel Good Foodie community is incredibly supportive, and I built it by being authentic and true to who I am and bringing my roots into my content. My community is like one big group of friends, and I do know that many of them also celebrate Ramadan and follow me for my Lebanese or Middle Eastern recipes. I always share glimpses of my everyday life, and Ramadan is no exception. I’ll be sharing my raw and real fasting experiences and emotions on my Instagram Stories and in our private Facebook group this year.
While Ramadan is observed by fasting, food plays an important role in the celebration and observance of Ramadan. The morning meal is called the Suhoor, the meal when you break your fast is called the Iftar, and the celebration at the end of Ramadan, where we have a huge feast with family and friends is called the Eid.
For Suhoor, I try to focus on foods that have high water content like fresh fruit and also foods with a lot of protein and fiber to keep me feeling full. I prepare overnight oatmeal, smoothies like my date shake and protein-rich foods like my breakfast egg cups. I also love making traditional Middle Eastern breakfasts like ful medames, which is a warm bean salad that we eat with pita bread.
For breaking the fast at Iftar, it’s traditional to have a family-style multiple course dinner. I typically break my fast with a large glass of water and dates. Dates are loaded with carbohydrates, which is exactly what my body needs after a long, tiring day of fasting. Then, I move on to a soup like crushed lentil soup or this Lebanese-inspired chicken noodle soup with vermicelli noodles. Salads like fattoush and tabbouleh make nightly appearances at my Iftar table as well.
The dishes that I cook for Ramadan now are inspired by my childhood and mostly Lebanese because of growing up in Dearborn, Michigan which boasts a large Lebanese community. Now that I’m away from my family, those flavors and traditions bring back those special moments. My online community also inspires me through the dishes they share at Iftar and through their requests for recipes to add the website (with measurements, since none of our moms ever measure anything!)
When I used to gather with my larger family or with friends, we always included many appetizers like stuffed grape leaves, hummus with ground beef, and finger foods like halloumi fries and zaatar cheese rolls. The main course is where protein is also very important to replenish my body; I love making recipes like chicken tawook with rice pilaf, and hearty stews like spinach stew that are warm, comforting and balanced.
One of my favorite Suhoor meals my mom always made was Manakeesh. Manakeesh (also known as manakish, manaeesh and manaqish; or manousheh in singular) is a Middle Eastern flatbread that’s made in many sizes, from a small mini pie to a larger one the size of a large pizza pie.
The authentic way to make manakeesh is by using a pizza oven with high temperatures. While you can’t completely replicate that at home, this recipe I learned from my mom has a similar taste, and it’s oven-baked at 450 degrees F to closely mimic a pizza-oven temperature. There’s a zaatar version, a minced lamb or meat version and a cheese version that can be made with different types of soft white cheeses. Manakeesh is so versatile, can easily be prepared in advance in large quantities, and freezes well so you can have it ready for the month of Ramadan.
This homemade version is easy to make and easily adaptable with different types of white cheeses. We enjoy this on it’s own as part of breakfast or suhoor during Ramadan with fresh vegetables and olives. My kids also enjoy it as a lunch or a midday snack and I enjoy it vicariously through them until I can break my fast!
Food always brings people together. And in a time when we can’t gather with friends and family to celebrate holidays with food traditionally, I still find unity in sharing nostalgic recipes and meals for Ramadan with my community online. We’re still sharing in this way, and uniting to celebrate through food and our memories with those foods.
Cheese manakeesh, or mana’eesh, is a Middle Eastern flatbread topped with shredded Akawi cheese, which is similar to whole-milk mozzarella. This is a Lebanese-style manakeesh that I learned how to make from my mother. It’s easy to prepare from scratch, but you can also use a 1-pound ball of store-bought pizza dough (or your favorite pizza dough recipe).