Ramadan is here, which means those observing the monthly fast have to get up in the wee hours of morning for sahur, the first meal of the day. This predawn breakfast is crucial as it provides the only sustenance and nourishment for the day until the post-sunset buka puasa, when the fasting is broken.
If you are looking for quick, convenient, healthy and delicious meals to prepare, celebrity chefs Nik Michael Imran and Anis Nabilah have these perfect recipes from their own sahur repositories.
Trendy, Fast Eats
Growing up, celebrity chef Nik Michael Imran never liked waking up for sahur.
“I never woke up for sahur. It’s a habit I learnt from my dad because he would not wake up for sahur as well. When I was little, every time Ramadan came around I was like, ‘Aiyoh, now I have to pray more!’” he says, laughing.
Nik, who shot to fame thanks to MasterChef Malaysia 2011, has since appeared on other TV shows like Tea Twist, Lunch With The Niks (a cooking show with his father Dato’ Nik Ezar Nik Bolia), and the recently completed Warna-Warni Asia. He also runs the F&B operation at co-working space Common Ground.
Given how busy he is, Nik says his perspective on Ramadan has done a 180° turnabout as he now looks forward to the holy month.
“It’s a very spiritual month for me. It’s when I detach myself from most earthly things and when I’m closest to God. You realise you’re maturing a bit when you actually look forward to being spiritual,” he says.
Nik has also become an avid cyclist and father of a four-month-old girl, so sahur has become increasingly important too as he needs to ensure his nutritional intake matches his rigorous fitness and fatherhood routine.
“It’s harder to get in your training sessions during puasa because you’re fasting. So what I do is have something light like kuih for buka puasa. Then after terawih prayers, I’ll have a small meal if I’m not cycling. If I’m cycling after that, I don’t feel like eating a lot, so then I’ll wake up for sahur,” he says.
Nik’s go-to for sahur include trendy meals like his refreshing and well-balanced salmon poke bowl, a take on the Hawaiian raw fish dish that typically includes rice and accompaniments such as seaweed, fresh and pickled vegetables.
“You always have extra rice from buka puasa which can be used, and you can change your toppings around. It could be extra fish curry or leftover rendang, anything can be used to top that bowl of rice. It’s the perfect dish for sahur because you can re-use whatever you have not finished,” he says.
Nik adds that once the raw fish is marinated in soy sauce, it can keep for three days, so you can make a large batch and use it later.
“The salmon poke itself, you can eat it instantly. It tastes good within five minutes of marination, although it is best to marinate it for 45 minutes. You can also marinate it for a few days or overnight. It just has a different texture as time goes on. Three-day-old salmon poke is still fresh, but it has a candy-like texture.”
Then, there is Nik’s nourishing bowl of oats, made fresh and topped with dates and a hot sliver of butter.
“We get a lot of dates at Ramadan, so you can cut it up and put it with the oatmeal. An oatmeal bowl is perfect nutrition-wise for puasa because you have the sugar and carbs that you need, and it still looks pretty,” he says.
Both meals take little time to prepare, and Nik adds most things can be tossed together on the spot or assembled the night before, ensuring that you don’t have to slave away for hours in the kitchen.
“People want something that’s quick because they don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, but they also want something that fills them up for the day, that tastes good, and even better if you can Instagram it! That’s what the trend is,” he affirms.
SALMON POKE BOWL
For the salmon poke
100g salmon, diced into 1.5cm cubes
20ml Japanese white soya sauce, or regular Japanese soya sauce
10ml sesame oil
5ml halal mirin (can be replaced with 1tsp sugar)
Salt to taste
For the base
250g cooked sushi rice, or reheated leftover white rice works well too
For the Kyuri salad (to toss together)
50g cold Japanese cucumber, cut into thick strips
1tbsp roasted sesame dressing (cold)
For the topping
30g edamame, removed from pods
1tsp plum pickled Japanese cucumber, diced into 0.5cm bits
1tsp pickled young ginger
1tbsp tobiko (flying fish roe)
To make the salmon poke
Mix all ingredients together and marinate for at least 10 minutes. The marinated salmon can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days.
To assemble poke bowl
Place a bed of rice into bowl. Flatten the top a little to make it easier and prettier to plate.
Arrange kyuri salad, edamame, pickled vegetables and salmon poke (topped with tobiko) into different segments but leave a little bit of rice exposed. On exposed rice, top with a sprinkling of furikake.
Serve with soy sauce and wasabi on the side (and some chopped chilli padi, if you’re like me).
180g organic instant oats
3tbsp pecans, lightly toasted and slightly bashed in a mortar and pestle
4 dates, pit removed and sliced into 0.5cm strips
A pat of good unsalted butter, for garnish
Add oats, milk and sugar into a small saucepan/pot and bring to a simmer on medium heat. Stir continuously but lightly for 3 minutes until consistency is of a thick soup. If too thick, add more milk.
Turn off heat and add the pecans and dates, stir swiftly to combine and immediately serve in a bowl. Add the pat of butter on top and serve hot.
Soothing, Nourishing Meals
Anis Nabilah remembers being forced to wake up as a child, along with her seven siblings, to eat the first meal of the day at Ramadan.
“That’s when my late grandmother or my mum or dad would prepare food, and it was whatever was leftover from the night before, or something like fried rice or roti canai. It was always heavy food,” says Anis, a celebrity chef with over 35 shows, including 1, 2 Bakar, Icip-Icip and My Taste Of Hong Kong.
Having travelled and eaten various things in her career, Anis says these experiences over the years have made her grow to love Ramadan more, as this is when she spends the most time with her family as they typically break fast together every day.
Now that she’s has moved away from the family home, Anis feels motivated to wake up for sahur herself. “But it’s completely different. I don’t eat what I used to at my parents’.” she says.
“I have healthy stuff, things I know will provide the energy I need to last the day, like overnight oats. That’s one of my favourites. So I’ll just fix it in the night, wake up the next morning, and have it, and it’s enough to last me the entire day.”
Anis’ delicious overnight oats are filled with fruits, dates and nuts to perk up waning eyelids and rouse the spirit of those not used to waking up so early for a meal. Then there’s her bubur lambuk, a hearty meal filled with chicken, beef, prawns and rice that provides warmth and nourishment.
“Bubur lambuk is my mother’s recipe. She makes it only at Ramadan for buka puasa, but we’ll have it for sahur as well. It’s one of those things that’s nicer after sitting on the stove for awhile,” she says.
Anis ensures that most of her dishes are prepared the night before, so they are ready to eat in the morning. “I don’t really cook in the morning for sahur, because it’s way too early and too much effort to make for myself,” she explains.
“These two meals can be prepared the night before. The oats take 15 minutes, no more than that. Bubur lambuk takes a bit of time, but if you’re rushing, you can cook boiled rice instead of raw rice as this halves the cooking time from an hour to 30 minutes.”
Many of Anis’ sahur recipes are in keeping with her own eating ideals, as well as the healthy trend permeating through KL over the years. Ultimately, she says people are moving away from heavier fare at sahur in favour of meals that fill their bellies without inducing lethargy.
“When you start the day with something heavy, you just feel tired. And people are definitely more health-conscious nowadays. Last year I posted a picture of my sahur, which was overnight oats, and so many asked me for the recipe because people want something that is healthier and looks appetising too,” she says.
CINNAMON OVERNIGHT OATS
1½ cup almond milk, plus additional as needed
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
1 cup plain oatmeal
2 tbsp chia seeds
3 medjool dates, pitted and chopped
3 tbsp raw honey
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
fresh fruit, such as banana slices, figs, raspberries, blueberies or sliced strawberries
¼ cup toasted unsalted almonds
In a medium bowl, stir together milk, yogurt, oatmeal, chia seeds, dates, honey, vanilla and cinnamon. Divide mixture into 2 jam/Mason jars.
Add more milk, as needed, so that oats are covered in liquid. You can also add fresh fruits after filling the jars half way through and top it off with more oats to create a layered look.
Cover and refrigerate overnight. To serve, top with more fresh fruit and sprinkle with almonds.
For the prawn stock
2½ cups water
For the porridge
2 cups rice, wash and drained
2 cups homemade chicken stock/ broth
2 cups homemade beef stock/ broth
2 pandan leaves, tied in a knot
3 lemongrass, bruised
1 red onion, blended
1 inch ginger, julienned
1 sup bunjut mix
1 tbsp fenugreek
100g chicken breast, thinly sliced
100g beef, thinly sliced
½ cup coconut milk
Ground white pepper
2 tbsp ghee
3 shallots, thinly sliced
1 medium sized red onion, thinly sliced
1 inch ginger, thinly sliced
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp cardamom
4 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
1 stalk spring onion, thinly sliced
1 sprig Chinese celery
1 poached egg
1 tbsp deep fried shallots
1 tbsp deep fried garlic
1 red chilli, de-seeded and thinly sliced
To make prawn stock
Shell and devein prawns. Keep shells and set prawns aside. In a pot, add shells and water. Once boiling, reduce liquid to 2 cups. Strain mixture, removing shells. Set aside.
To cook porridge
Boil rice in a pot with all the stocks/ broth, pandan leaves, lemongrass, blended onion, ginger, sup bunjut, fenugreek, chicken and beef until the rice starts to break apart and and you get a thick porridge consistency.
Add coconut milk, prawns and season with salt and pepper. Leave it to boil for another 5 more minutes.
Heat ghee in a pan and sauté shallots, onion, ginger, cloves, cardamom, star anise, and cinnamon sticks. Once fragrant, immediately pour everything into the pot of porridge. Give it a quick stir and garnish with garnishing ingredients.