“Eat and drink, until the white thread of dawn appear to you distinct from its black thread; then complete your fast till the night appears.” (Quran, 2:187)
Ramadan is the holiest month of the year in Islam. It’s the period during which Muslims believe the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. It is marked by prayer (communal and personal), charity, reflection and — perhaps its most widely recognized manifestation — fasting from dawn to sunset.
No food, no water, no chewing gum and no vices for 30 days during daytime hours can be challenging enough for an individual — though Islam considers it a gift and a privilege to experience such spiritual cleansing.
But for parents of growing children who are fasting alongside them, the practical challenge is doubled: How do you guide your children along the spiritual tenets of the fast, while keeping their growing bodies nourished from suhoor, the pre-dawn meal (also called sehri or sahril), to iftar, when the fast is broken each night?
Amy Hossain’s daughters — Keya, 11, and Linna, 10 — started practicing their fasts, six days throughout the month, when they were in the fourth and third grades. Now, they fast the full 30 days of Ramadan, which ends this Saturday.
“It’s actually amazing, because I would never have done such a thing at their age — I wasn’t Muslim then — and to see them doing it, it’s very inspiring,” their mom, Amy, says. “It makes my husband and I much better parents, because we have to be there for them. We can’t be lazy; we can’t just have a drink of water and go back to sleep [at dawn]. We have to make sure that our kids are getting nutrition and they’re getting their water and things for the day; that they’re getting moral support and pep talks and all that. And it makes us better Muslims.”
Amy’s thought a lot about how to keep Keya and Linna sustained throughout their fasts, which, this year, have begun around 4:30 a.m. and end near 8 p.m. each evening. (The family lives in Torrance, Calif.)
“If it was just me, I could maybe have a bowl of cereal and a cup of tea and maybe make it through the day,” Amy says. “But with them, that’s not enough. As a growing child, you need calories and you need calcium and you need all these things.”
Amy’s solution: Put together a nutritious, calorie-filled meal at suhoor and motivate the girls from the moment they wake up with traditions and encouragement that will get them closer to sustaining — and better understanding — their fasts.
But how do you create a predawn meal with enough calories and nutrition to sustain growing girls for nearly 16 hours?
At the Hossain table, the answer is cream-cheese puri.
Keya and Linna love cream cheese, Amy says — in anything. Puri is a South Asian flatbread — Amy’s husband is Bangladeshi — usually filled with something delicious (lentils, chickpeas, potatoes…). So when Amy put the two together — she calls it “a desi-American fusion food” — it was an instant success and inadvertently became her family’s newest suhoor tradition.
Although she doesn’t follow a written recipe when she makes puri of any kind, she shared her process with us — so now anyone can join in the Hossains’ cream-cheese puri suhoor tradition:
They taste sublime with a cup of hot chai. And my kids like them with a cup of juice. Enjoy!
Amy Hossain’s cream-cheese puri
I imagine, like most other puri makers, I don’t use a written recipe or use any measuring spoons or cups. But if I had to write one, here’s how it would go…
- Cream cheese
- Vegetable oil
FIRST: Make the puri dough
>> Pour some all-purpose white flour in a large bowl or mixer. (Eyeball about a cup for two puris…I make ‘em BIG.)
>> Sprinkle salt over the flour. (Use about the same amount of salt you would if you were salting a hard-boiled egg to eat as a snack. I know this is vague, especially for people who don’t like eggs.)
>> Mix the salt and flour together with your hands or on a slow setting of your mixer. (You don’t want a face full of flour!)
>> Start adding water while your dry ingredients are mixing. If you’re mixing by hand, drizzle the water with your left hand, mix with your right. (This is the traditional and preferred way of mixing in most puri-eating countries, for reasons that are understood but not spoken.)
>> Knead until the consistency of the dough is soft, moist and pliable — but not sticky. (Trial and Error are your good friends here.)
>> For best results, let the dough sit for about an hour. (But if you’re really hungry, you might be interested in good-enough results, so start construction! During Ramadan, I make the dough the night before and leave it in the fridge. If you’re cooking at 3:30 a.m., you want it to be as simple as possible.)
THEN: Construct and fry the puri
>> In a large, deep skillet (like a chicken fryer or a wok), start heating enough vegetable oil that a tortilla could float in. But make sure your pan is not too full; some oil will splash a bit in the cooking process. (I have a cheap stove, so I need to use high heat to cook everything. But if you have one of those fancy stoves with lots of horsepower, you might be better off with medium-high heat.)
>> While the oil is heating, lightly flour a work surface. Pinch off a lime- or lemon-sized ball of dough and squish it until it’s about a 1/2-inch thick. (Don’t be too perfect about this step.)
>> From a brick of cream cheese, preferably cold, cut or scoop out a chunk about one-third the size of your dough ball and put it in the center of the flattened dough.
>> Wrap the puri dough up and around the cream cheese. At this point it should look like a ball again. Try to squeeze all the creases out.
>> Now the tricky part: With your rolling pin, start flattening the puri, trying your best not to create any holes for the cream cheese to squeeze out. But if it happens, call it a learning experience.
>> The puri should be thin — a little less than 1/4-inch thick, if possible. (A perfectly round shape is traditional and shows the signs of an experienced puri maker, but this kind of stress is beyond my comfort zone. I like to tell myself: “It looks better when you can tell it didn’t come out of a package. Plus, everyone will know it’s homemade if you end up with puris in the shape of any of the United States.”)
>> When your puri is constructed, carefully slide it into the very hot oil. (The closer your fingers come to the hot oil, the more your children will marvel at your bravery.) Make sure it gets completely dunked.
>> Use some reliable tongs to handle the puri. (You don’t want any spontaneous closing and opening of the tongs in the middle of a large pool of boiling oil, trust me.)
>> You may start seeing your puri start expanding and puffing up into a ball. (If so, you’re doing it just right!! If not, don’t worry, they’ll still taste great.)
>> When the first side becomes golden, turn it over and repeat.
>> Remove from the oil. (Some people like to drain the puri on paper towels; others prefer not to waste all those precious calories.)