There are around 1.8 billion Muslims around the world today – and as one of the fastest growing religions in the world, it is safe to say that the cultures, languages, histories, and foods of Muslim communities are one of the most diverse on earth today.
In the hopes of celebrating, appreciating, and understanding that the unique diversity of the Muslim ummah is what makes us stronger as a community and not weaker, here is a quick trip around parts of the Muslim world – in food and recipes. Happy eating!
Commonly known as Bosniaks, Bosnian Muslims are part of a South Slavic ethnic group and reside in not only the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also in parts of Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Albania, and Kosovo to name a few. With a population of around 2 million, Bosnian Muslims have unfortunately a large diaspora community because of the horrific genocide of the Bosnian War from 1991 to 1995. Despite deep-rooted and generational trauma from such an atrocious tragedy, Bosnian Muslims remain proud of their colorful and unique heritage and culture.
Bosnian man in traditional clothing in Maglaj, Bosnia and Herzegovina
As one of Europe’s largest ethnic Muslim groups, Bosniaks are an important reminder that Muslims have never been an “outside issue” to Europe. Islam, and the Muslims who settled, lived, and contributed to Europe, have for centuries been a part of what makes Europe so European. Here is one popular dish, loved by people from all generations:
This buttery pastry is layered with flakes of pastry, meat, cheese, or spinach all rolled together into a beautiful platter of the best of all textures – crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, this buttery delight is perfect for all occasions.
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion (finely chopped)
2 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
1 pound of minced beef or lamb
2 Tbsp of fresh parsley (finely chopped)
Salt, pepper, and sweet paprika to taste
1 package of filo pastry
1/4 of melted butter
1 Tbsp of sesame seeds
1 egg (lightly beaten)
1 Tsp of water
- For the filling, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan. Add in the onion first and cook until golden brown, adding in the garlic towards the end.
- Once the onion-garlic has become aromatic, add in the minced meat and cook through. Add in salt, pepper, and sweet paprika to taste. Once cooked, mix in the fresh parsley and set aside.
- For the Burek pastry, line a large baking sheet with baking paper. On a separate clean and dry surface, lay out three sheets of filo pastry on top of each other to create a layered and rectangular shape. Brush each layer with the melted butter.
- Once the entire rectangle of the filo pastry is laid out, arrange the meat mixture in a long line across the long edge of the rectangle. Roll up the filo pastry to create a long snake-shaped pastry with the meat mixture in the middle.
- Roll the tube of filo dough into a spiral disc shape, placing it inside of the baking sheet (it should be in the shape of a circle). Brush the top with more of the beaten egg and sprinkle the top with sesame seeds.
- Bake in a pre-heated oven at 190C (or 375F) for around 25 minutes, or until the filo pastry is golden brown. Once finished, serve with fresh yogurt and enjoy!
Uyghur Muslims are a Turkic ethnic group who live predominantly in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang, although historically they have lived across the regions of Central Asia. Identifying as Muslim with their own distinct culture, language, traditions, and food, Uyghur Muslims have come under heavy persecution from Chinese authorities, who view them as extremists and separatists.
Uyghur men in the city of Kashgar
Despite the horrendous human rights abuses from Chinese authorities, the Uyghur community has remained steadfast in their commitment to both spread awareness about their plight as well as keep hold of their ancient and unique culture and traditions. So in the spirit of solidarity, here is one favorite recipe:
A traditional Uyghur rice dish found throughout Central Asia, with a mix of lamb, carrots, and spices – this dish holds both historic as well as cultural significance. Representing the best of the Silk Road and the immense influence it had on the spreading of spices, flavors, foods, and ingredients, this is a must-try dish for one of the best examples of Muslim diversity.
2 Tbsp of oil
5 cloves of garlic
3 small pieces of ginger (peeled)
1 pound of lamb ribs (cut into small pieces)
2 Tsp of salt
2 onions (cut and chopped)
1 pound of carrots (peeled and either sliced or chopped, depending on preference)
2 cups of rice
1 Tsp of sugar
1 Tsp of cumin powder
5 dried chilli peppers
1 Tsp of Sichuan peppercorn
- Heat oil in a large wok or large frying pan. Add in garlic and ginger, fry until fragrant.
- Add in lamb ribs one at a time and add in 1 Tsp of salt. Stir and cook until the ribs turn golden brown, around 3 minutes.
- Add in the onion and mix well, and then add in the carrots, cook for around 3 minutes.
- Add three cups of water and wait for entire mixture to boil. Once boiling, add in the sugar, cumin powder, chilli peppers, and Sichuan peppercorns.
- Turn to a low heat and cover the pan. Cook mixture for around 1 hour and 30 minutes, keeping it at a low simmer.
- Add another 1 Tsp of salt halfway through, and add more water if necessary.
- Once the lamb is cooked through, make room in the middle of the wok to pour the rice in (make sure there is still enough water to cover the rice completely). Cover the entire mixture with both the lamb and rice again and cook for around 5 minutes while keeping it on medium heat.
- Once at a boil for 5 minutes, leave the heat to a simmer and let it cook for around another 20 minutes, or until the rice is cooked through. When ready and there is no more water in the rice, serve hot and enjoy!
Situated in the middle of the Indian Ocean off the coast of southern India, the Maldives have an almost 100% native Muslim population, with Islam as the state religion. Islam was first introduced to the islands in the 11th century, mainly from Arab and East African traders and merchants. When the Buddhist King Dhovemi converted to Islam in the late 12th century and changed his title and name to Sultan Muhammed Al-Adil, the Maldives was forever changed into an Islamic nation.
A Maldivian family
Today, the Maldives is often portrayed as an expensive tropical getaway for rich Western tourists. What many don’t realize or see when traveling to the Maldives however, is just how richly diverse, colorful, and dynamic the local culture and history is. From the smaller local islands like Guraidhoo to Hulhumale, staying away from private resort islands is the best way to experience the true culture of the Maldives and interact with the local population. Their history, language, and yes, food are all part of the beautiful example of how the Maldives have long been a hub for the exchange in peoples, goods, languages, foods, and ideas in the Indian Ocean. In appreciation of the Maldives’ often ignored historical importance in the region, here is one of the most loved dishes from the islands:
Traditionally eaten for breakfast with roti bread, this dish is comprised of tuna, coconut, and lime; a perfect representation of the best flavors from this colorful nation. This is a perfect way to understand and appreciate the history and culture of the Maldives – as both at the crossroads of an ancient trading route as well as being a fiercely independent and fascinating archipelago of islands.
16 oz canned white tuna (crumbled)
5 oz smoked tuna
2 green hot peppers (seeded and chopped finely)
1 small white onion (finely chopped)
2 large limes (juiced)
Zest of 1 lime
1 fresh coconut (grated, but additionally you can use 3 oz of dried shredded coconut)
3 oz of coconut milk
2 Tbsp of oil (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste (can also add in a dash of chili powder to taste)
- Mix in the two different tunas together in one large bowl, making sure everything is evenly crumbled together. Add in the chopped onion (you can skip this step if you don’t want fresh onion).
- Pour in the lime juice and lime zest into the tuna mixture.
- Add in the grated or shredded coconut, mixing everything well. Then pour in the coconut milk. If the mixture seems a little dry, you can pour in the oil. If the mixture is at the desired consistency, keep as it is.
- Finally, mix in the green peppers, salt, pepper, and chili if wanted. Serve this dish cold with a side of fresh roti, and enjoy!
Nigeria is home to the largest Muslim population in West Africa, with over 50% of the country’s population adhering to Islam. While the country can generally be split between the Muslim north and the Christian south, Nigerian Muslims have moved and contributed to the country as a whole since as early as the 11th century when Islam was first introduced to Nigeria.
Ethnic Hausa people in Auchi Edo, Nigeria
With a fascinating history of ancient trade routes and established hubs for commerce, Nigeria has been a major player in not only connecting the Middle East with North Africa but also with connecting North Africa with Sub-Saharan Africa. From the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean, peoples, goods, religions, and languages have flourished in the country, eventually seeing the monumental rise of Islam within what is now modern-day Nigeria. In celebration of Nigeria’s diverse and layered history, here is one favorite recipe:
Arguably the most-loved of all Nigerian dishes, this rice and tomato-based dish, often served with a side of grilled chicken, is the perfect way to serve a large family or gathering of friends. Although many other West African nations create their own versions of jollof rice, Nigerians proudly state that this is a staple to the country’s beautiful culture of food.
4 Cups of long grain rice
3 Cups of tomato stew
Preferred amount of chicken (drumsticks or chicken wings are popular), cooked or grilled separately
3 stock cubes
2 Tsps of thyme
2 Tsps of Nigerian curry powder
Salt and pepper to taste
- Pour the stock and tomato stew in a large pot of water and bring to a boil.
- Add in the rice, curry powder, salt, and pepper to taste. The water level should be at the same level as the rice and leave on medium heat.
- Once the rice is close to finishing and the water has been cooked through, add in the thyme and mix well. The rice mixture shouldn’t be too dry and should be colorful from the tomato stew, so adjust accordingly (either more water or a bit more tomato stew).
- Once finished, either mix in the grilled chicken or serve separately to the jollof rice and enjoy!
Read more from our Around the Muslim World series, in Cities and Culture, and Sweets and Dessert!