Eid al-Adha brings together family and friends for traditional feasts all over the Muslim world but what foods are common on all these tables and what’s just a little bit different?
Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Bakr, or Eid al-Kabir as it’s known in Morocco, is known as the sacrificial feast and commemorates the time when Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his son as a test of his faith and obedience. When the time came, he was given a lamb to sacrifice instead and his son was spared. Therefore, it’s customary to see lamb or sometimes goat as the centerpiece of the Eid al-Adha celebratory meal. In parts of Morocco, a cow or camel can be slaughtered instead.
The animal has to be slaughtered in accordance with halal principles and much of the meat is given away to friends and those in need before the portion retained is cooked. It’s not unusual to see every part of the animal being used for eating, so that means organ meat such as the more common liver is eaten but brain, tongue and even tail are also sometimes carefully prepared during this time. In fact, many people who generally don’t eat organ meat often make an exception and partake of it on this occasion. A Pakistani friend explained that the younger generation, at least in Pakistan, really don’t seem to like lamb or goat that much now so it seems a lot of the animal is in fact given away and chicken is served instead, so there is still an emphasis on the donation part of the festival.
Rice is a ubiquitous item on all Eid tables and the special pilao or pilaf rice is common in areas like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey and Iran from where the word Pilao originates. Pilao means the rice has been cooked in a meat stock as opposed to just steamed in water to give it extra flavor. But garnishes of pilao vary from country to country so expect the bitter sweet barberries and pine nuts sprinkled on Iranian pilao, raisins and grated carrot on pilao from Afghanistan and pistachios on pilao from Pakistan. Afghanistan and Iran often add saffron to their pilaos as it’s so readily available.
Expect to see some bulgar wheat along with pilao in Turkey and couscous in Morocco. The principle being the same across regions, that a carbohydrate rich meal must be accompanied by intense meat courses. Biriyani, layered rice with meat and spices together with haleem (ground meat served with crushed wheat and lentils from Hyderabad via Iran) and nihari (slow cooked lamb with the bone marrow) form Eid al-Adha staples on Muslim tables in Pakistan and India.
Meat balls seem to be a very popular dish across the region at this time, with India and Pakistan serving them in rich curry gravies. The Nargisi kofta, or meat ball dish, sees flavored mince wrapped around hard boiled eggs that are then cooked in a masala gravy, often seen on Pakistani tables at Eid.
Its more common to see succulent pit roasted kebabs on Turkish tables and Turks uses a special tandir technique to slow roast meat kebabs over coals to infuse a smoky flavor. Travel further east to India and Pakistan the tandir becomes the tandoor and spices are used more liberally. The traditional Mechoui steamed lamb from Morocco is especially associated with Eid al-Adha but seems to have become a favorite with celebrated chefs around the world. Jamie Oliver has a recipe for it as does Rick Stein! The spices used are now synonymous with Middle Eastern and Asian cooking, so stock up on cumin, cinnamon, ginger and turmeric, but add fiery chillies the further east you travel.
Eid al-Adha desserts in the Gulf this year will focus on cool, creamy milky puddings and syrupy, flaky pastry and nuts as it’s still very hot outside. So expect vermicelli in various formats this Eid, it’s made into Kunafa using akawi cheese with rose water or orange blossom in the UAE and the Levant, whereas Pakistan serves it as Seviyan with pistachios, cardamoms and raisins.
Firin Sutlac is a Turkish style rice pudding that incorporates egg and is baked in clay pots in the oven, a firm favorite served at Eid al-Adha.
Eid Mubarak to all that are celebrating and perhaps it would be wise to serve your main, meat dense, rich meal at lunch or early in the day to allow time for it to be properly digested. My table will probably see Rick Stein’s chicken and rose water biriyani made with Kashmiri chillies and natural yoghurt!