From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...I hate to admit to being provincial, but there are times it is painfully apparent, even to me. While I've traveled through other Muslim countries, I must admit that prior to visiting Egypt, I had never seen, much less thought about, a zebiba. The zebiba is a black mark found on the forehead of devout Egyptian males. It resembles the smudge of ashes left on foreheads of Catholics on Ash Wednesday. It, however, is a permanent mark formed by hardened skin where the forehead touches the ground during Muslim prayers. A practicing Muslim’s forehead is meant to touch the ground, in symbolic submission to God's will, at least 34 times a day during prayer. The zeal with which this is done can affect the size and color of the mark. Some believe that light will emanate from the zebiba on the Day of Judgment to identify those who are truly devout. While some see the mark as a sign of devotion, others think it is a display of ostentatious piety. However, as Egyptians increasingly emphasize Islam as the cornerstone of identity, there has been a growing emphasis on public displays of piety that include the zebiba.
Muslim piety is marked in other ways as well. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and most adult Muslims fast from dawn to dusk every day during that month. A large evening meal is served to offset the daytime fasting, but a lighter meal, that includes a soup called harira, is served immediately after sundown to break the fast and fortify the observant until the large meal is served later in the evening. There are many versions of harira, but most of them use a combination of lentils and chickpeas that are cooked in a broth that includes tomatoes and spices. It is a pleasant soup and I think you might enjoy it. Here is a simplified recipe for harira.
Harira - Ramadan Soup...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite
4 cups vegetable stock
1 chopped onion
1 teaspoon ground saffron
Dash of black pepper
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 sprig parsley
4 ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
Juice of one lemon
1 oz. butter
Dash of salt
1 quart water
2 tablespoons flour
1) Soak lentils for 1 hour in a 3-quart pot. Add chopped onion and cook until done. Drain.
2) Return lentil to pot. Add vegetable broth, saffron and pepper. Cook over a low flame for 30 minutes.
3) To make sauce: Place coriander, parsley, tomatoes, lemon juice, butter, a dash of salt and 1 quart of water into another saucepan. Cook the tedouira over medium-high heat for 30 minutes. Stir in flour. Drain lentils. Add to tedouira and heat through. Serve hot. Yield: 4 servings.
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