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After a month of fasting, decadent dishes for area Muslims

Eid al-Fitr features diverse culinary fare

Joshunda Sanders

Eid al-Fitr, the three-day holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan, is known among most Muslims as the "festival of sweets," because so much of the holiday centers around sugary delicacies. Daily Ramadan fasting from water or food between dawn and sunset throughout August has ended the same way today's holiday will begin with the sweetness of a date. Nutrient-rich, heavy foods like samosas will make an appearance alongside spreads that will include everything from rich meat stews to desserts infused with rose water.

When she was a girl, Fatima Ahmed knew when the end of Ramadan was approaching because her mother would spin into a last-minute frenzy preparing food for Eid, she said. Muslim women traditionally start planning at least a week in advance because the holiday kicks off with open houses, and families visit one another's homes to snack throughout the days.

Ahmed, whose family is from Pakistan, said she learned watching her mother that "the really yummy stuff takes a lot of work." Ahmed doesn't exactly like to cook, but she planned to make a quick version of the sweet vermicelli dish, Sheer Khurma, to break her fast ahead of morning prayers on Eid.

Locally, the celebration of Eid is commemorated by girls and women decorating themselves with henna body art and buying new clothing, Ahmed said — a tradition that extends to Muslims in other countries such as Egypt, Indonesia and Turkey.

The Austin celebration begins after the sighting of the new moon today, with a pre-sunrise prayer before communal morning prayers at the Crockett Center.

By late morning, the hundreds of families that pack into the center fan out into the city to the homes of friends for potlucks or brunches at area restaurants, said Rahila Ali, one of the vendors at a pre-Eid iftar and henna night bazaar at North Austin's Renaissance Academy. The potlucks feature decadent fare as diverse as the more than 50 nationalities represented in Austin's Muslim community. Biryani, a basmati rice dish with chunks of lamb or chicken, is as likely to be served as Lemang, a glutinous rice dish cooked in hollowed-out bamboo. Desserts and sugary snacks are more common treats. A soupy fruit salad, called Fruit Chaat, is slightly spicy with some chaat masala spice tossed with orange juice that is mixed with diced apples, pomegranates and guava. Chaat is usually served in crystal bowls and some Muslims eat it for breakfast before prayers on Eid as well.

Among the most popular are mamoul, cookies usually made with flour and semolina that can be filled with dates, pistachios or walnuts. (Ahmed said she shies away from cooking mamoul because they're labor-intensive.) The cookies are also popular among Arab Christians during Christmas and Easter. The question for most Muslims becomes what to drink with all the sugar and spice that comes with the Eid festival, whether they are eating in the homes of relatives and friends or opting to eat out, like Round Rock physician Lamia Kadir, who said her family planned to head to Kerbey Lane for their annual post-prayer brunch and gift-giving.

Kadir said she hadn't thought that far in advance. She was focused, instead, on "eating to my heart's content."

jsanders@statesman.com; 445-3630

Sheer Khurma (Seviyan)

Traditionally, whole milk is heated slowly for a couple of hours, until it thickens to the right consistency. Ahmed said she doesn't cook anything that takes that much time and attention, so her mom came up with a quicker version, below, that takes about 20 minutes to prepare. This traditional South Asian dish can be served warm or cold. This recipe makes about eight servings.

2 Tbsp., plus 1/2 tsp. of canola and vegetable oil

3 oz. vermicelli broken into small pieces

1 Tbsp. of golden raisins (optional)

1-12 oz. can of evaporated milk

21/2 cups of whole milk

1/4 tsp. cardamom

4 to 6 Tbsp. of sugar

2 Tbsp. of almonds

1/2 tsp. coconut flakes (optional)

In sauté pan, heat 2 Tbsp. oil on low flame. Add vermicelli and lightly sauté for about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. (The vermicelli should have a pleasant aroma, and a slightly darkened color). If using raisins: in another pan, heat 1/2 tsp. of oil and sauté raisins on low heat for 1-2 minutes. Reserve 1/4 cup evaporated milk. In a large sauce pan, mix together whole milk, rest of the evaporated milk and cardamom. Stirring constantly, heat on medium until almost boiling (the evaporated milk in the mixture will take on a burnt flavor if left unattended). Add the browned vermicelli and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, constantly stirring. Stir in sugar, cook for another minute and pour into serving dish. If serving warm: Stir in 1/4 cup evaporated milk, and garnish with chopped almonds, sautéed raisins and coconut flakes. If serving cold: Cool on countertop for about 30 minutes, cover and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours (the dessert thickens on cooling). Just before serving, stir in 1/4 cup cold evaporated milk, and then garnish with chopped almonds, sautéed raisins and coconut flakes. Refrigerate leftovers in a sealed container for up to 2 days. Without the garnishing, Sheer Khurma can be kept refrigerated for up to 5 days.