This Saturday evening, August 10, 2019, is the beginning of Eid al-Adha, or the festival of the sacrifice. The second of the two major Eids each year (the first is Eid al-Fitr), Eid al-Adha is one of the most important religious festivals on the Islamic calendar. It begins on the tenth day of Dhu‘l-Hijja, the final month of the Islamic calendar, and celebrations can run for an additional three days. It is also primarily when the faithful make the Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca that’s mandatory for all able-bodied Muslims to make at least once in their lives. Between two and three million people make the journey to Mecca for the Hajj each year!
To celebrate this important festival with our Muslim friends and readers out there, we wanted to explore the heritage of Eid al-Adha. And since this is Medicareful Living, that definitely means we’re looking at the food you can eat to celebrate this time! Before that, though, let’s briefly discuss the rich culture surrounding this festival.
What is Eid al-Adha, and How is It Celebrated?
As we mentioned earlier, Eid al-Adha (pronounced EED al-UD-huh) translates to festival of the sacrifice. The sacrifice that it commemorates will be familiar with those who practice Islam and the other Abrahamic religions, like Christianity and Judaism. The story this refers to is that of Ibrahim (“Abraham” in Christianity and Judaism), who was willing to sacrifice his son at the request of Allah (“God,” “Yahweh,” and “Jehova,” in Judaism and Christianity). When Ibrahim did the deed, he found that a ram had been sacrificed in his son’s place (in some tellings, Ibrahim is stopped and told to sacrifice a ram instead). The order was a test to see Ibrahim’s willingness to submit and obey Allah’s (“Yahweh’s” or “Jehova’s” or “God’s” in Judaism and Christianity) commands. Today, Muslims commemorate this test during Eid al-Adha to strengthen their own willingness to follow the will of Allah.
Eid al-Adha is comparable to Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled into one, with the Qurbani sacrifice intended to be shared amongst the needy, friends, and family.
Central to the celebrations of Eid al-Adha is the Qurbani, the ritualistic sacrifice of an animal. Eid al-Adha is comparable to Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled into one, with the Qurbani sacrifice intended to be shared amongst the needy, friends, and family. Each member of the family is expected to contribute a portion, so a large family will often sacrifice a cow or camel instead of the usual goat or sheep. These portions are enjoyed together at a large feast later that day.
Eid al-Adha is also celebrated with prayers, visits with friends and family, and gift-giving, as well as the Hajj for those who are able. Some Islamic countries, like the United Arab Emirates, have multi-day, national holidays to celebrate Big Eid.
The Food of Eid al-Adha
Much like for Eid al-Fitr, there is no one dish that constitutes the quintessential Eid al-Adha meal due to the diversity of the Islamic world and meal options. There are a few common denominators, though. Meat is a big part of Eid al-Adha, due to the Qurbani sacrifice. Many will work within the beliefs of Big Eid and use the Qurbani meat in local favorites, like biryani in Southeast Asia or kebabs in Turkey. Roasted lamb, slowly cooked with herbs, spices, and butter until it’s perfectly tender, is traditional across the Middle East during Eid al-Adha. Sometimes, the animal’s liver will be fried for breakfast, while the rest of the animal is saved for lunch and dinner.
Roasted lamb, slowly cooked with herbs, spices, and butter until it’s perfectly tender, is traditional across the Middle East during Eid al-Adha.
In fact, lamb often becomes the backbone for many of these traditional savory dishes during Big Eid. The biryani and kebabs mentioned earlier will often, though not always, utilize lamb as main protein. Many across North Africa celebrate Eid al-Adha with a tagine, a popular stew named after the cone-like vessel it’s cooked in. That isn’t to say that all of the treats of Eid al-Adha are savory. It’s also a great time for sweets like maamoul, a cookie often filled with dates, figs, or nuts. These round-pastry cookies are often popular during both of the Eids or Easter, as these sweet treats are perfect for festivities.
To give you a taste of Eid al-Adha, we’ve selected two common dishes to eat during Big Eid: roasted lamb and biryani. With them both, you’ll have a taste of Eid al-Adha across Islam, from the Middle East to Asia.
Roasted Eid al-Adha Lamb
- 4 lamb shanks, roughly 1 pound per shank
- 1 tsp of cumin
- 1 tsp of smoked paprika
- 1 tsp of ground cardamom
- 1 ½ tsp of cinnamon
- 1 tsp of turmeric
- 2 tsp of salt
- 1 tsp of black pepper
- 2 sprigs of thyme
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, diced
- About 4 cups of low sodium chicken stock
- 4 tbsp of olive oil
- At least a day before cooking, season the lamb shanks with the cumin, smoked paprika, ground cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, salt, and pepper.
- Place them in a freezer bag or covered bowl and place it in the fridge overnight.
- An hour before cooking, remove the shanks from the fridge and allow them to get to room temperature.
- In a large Dutch oven or deep pot on the stove top, heat two tablespoons of olive oil and brown all sides of the shanks over medium-high heat. If you need to do two shanks at a time, that’s okay.
- Remove the shanks and set them aside.
- Add two tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the onions and garlic for six to eight minutes, until the onions are softened but not browned.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Lay the sprigs of thyme and place the lamb shanks over the ingredients in the pot.
- Add enough chicken stock to the pot so that it covers the shanks and bring it a boil.
- Cover the pot and reduce the temperature to low.
- Allow the pot to simmer for an hour and a half, until the meat is tender.
- While the shanks are simmering, preheat the oven to 475°F.
- After an hour and a half, remove the shanks and strain the braising liquid into the pot.
- Roast the shanks in the oven for around 20 to 25 minutes, basting them with the braising liquid every five minutes to keep them moist. The exterior of the shanks should be crisp and develop a light glaze from the basting.
- Reduce the remaining liquid until it’s your desired thickness, making a sauce that’ll go over the shanks.
- Serve the shanks over rice, with the sauce or shredded, and share and enjoy!
Easy Chicken Biryani from Dinner then Dessert
- 3 tablespoons olive oil (or ghee if available)
- 4 chicken thighs boneless and skinless, cut into 1” chunks
- 1 yellow onion cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 1 tbsp garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp ginger, minced
- 2 Roma tomatoes, grated
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 green bell pepper, sliced
- 2 tsp Kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 2 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups basmati rice, rinsed and drained
Check out Dinner then Dessert’s Chicken Biryani Recipe for the instructions for this recipe.