How to embrace Eid al-Adha’s Feast of Sacrifice
A guide to dining over the holiest of Eids.
Islam’s Ramadan festival is a month-long spell of reflection for many of the world’s two billion Muslims, where from sunrise to sundown, eating and drinking, intimate relations or any other indulgences are foregone to fulfil this holy fast. Ramadan is broken by the festival of Eid al-Fitr or the “Lesser Eid”, where Muslims throw open their kitchens, indulge in banquets of sweet treats, share their wealth and celebrate family and friends. Eid al-Adha is also known as “Greater Eid”, “salty Eid” or the Feast of Sacrifice, and is a further festival of thanks, with a deep-seated lesson of unquestioning devotion.
What is the origin of Eid al-Adha?
The story behind Eid al-Adha tells of the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his own son, Ismail, at the word of supreme god Allah. The Quran tells of Ibrahim having a dream, in which he is commanded by Allah to sacrifice his son as a sign of his obedience to God. Satan, or Shytaan, tries to stop him from making this pious gesture, but Ibrahim is determined to follow Allah’s word and sends the devil away.
Ibrahim and Ismail head to Mount Moriah, where Ismail lays on the ground as Ibrahim holds a sharp knife to his son’s neck. However, just before Ibrahim commits the murder, Allah sends a ram via Angel Gabriel (Jibreel) to be sacrificed instead. Ibrahim had proved his unquestioning commitment and obedience to God and his loyalty was rewarded.
While a lot of the activities for Eid al-Adha take place very much in the present, enjoying the company of loved ones and neighbours and pooling pots of food to mark Ibrahim’s commitment and sacrifice, preparations for Eid take place up to a month in advance. Houses are cleaned and decorated ready to host spontaneous gatherings and plans are made for the sacrificial animal – choosing and haggling for the right animal in countries where this is permitted – or planning menus around the cut of meat they plan to purchase.
The day is also one of contemplation, of giving thanks through prayer and meditation in those quiet moments snatched away from the hubbub of the festival. People are encouraged to consider Ibrahim’s unquestioning devotion and think what they would be willing to do for their loved ones, acknowledge acts of kindness they have received and resolve to enrich the lives of others. It’s also a lesson in gratitude – giving thanks for the full table, sharing what they have and respecting the animals sacrificed for their plate.
What is eaten at Eid al-Adha?
For this Eid, the menu is much more savoury, with meat, most prominently lamb and mutton, the hero of a variety of dishes. Barbecues are very much on the menu, combining the emphasis on communal dining and feeding the community with enjoying the symbolism and rich flavour of the meat.
Biriyani is a popular South Asian rice dish enjoyed with vegetables, mutton, spices and herbs, often served alongside stews, Moroccan tagines with cous-cous, curries such as Korma with rice and other one-pot meals. Much of the feast can be made vegetarian or even vegan – the emphasis here is on inclusivity and communal dining rather than on the consumption of meat.
Maqluba dish popular in the Middle East is a popular choice – layering chargrilled vegetables, meat and rice in a pot, which is then flipped to reveal a large savoury cake to be sliced up and served. Take a look at our step-by-step guide below to making a mean lamb Maqluba.
Of course, a festival wouldn’t be a festival without treats, and there’s plenty on the table for those with a sweet tooth. Many of the popular desserts from Eid al-Fitr are served up for Eid al-Adha, including Bosnian Tufahija – poached apples stuffed with walnuts and topped with syrup and cream. Another favourite is Mughlai, or milk with dates, which combines vermicelli, milk, sugar, dates and dried fruits to make a rich creamy pudding. There’s also an abundance of rich, buttery biscuits like Maamoul, which is full of flavours of pistachio and rose water.
Eid Mubarak to you and your loved ones for a blessed Eid al-Adha.