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From left: Nabilat Ashimi,Iman Ashimi,Suad Ashimi and Asma Ashimi, during the Nigerian iftar at Sharjah. Image Credit: Atiq Ur Rehman/Gulf News

Sharjah: For Sharjah-based Nigerian sisters Asma, Nabilat, Suad and Iman Ashimi, Ramadan, among many things, is a time of togetherness.

Sure enough, no matter where they are, they try to be home by iftar time. But given their professional commitments, that’s not always easy. Asma is a social media manager at a local bank. Nabilat is a sales operator at a company, Suad works for a digital advertising firm, while the youngest, Imaan, is a public relations executive at a media agency.

“As someone who has spent three Ramadans without my family, I know the importance of these precious moments. So I try to make the most of them,” said the eldest of the three, Asma who moved to the UAE in 2012.

“Nabilat joined me in 2015, Suad came in 2016 and Iman the year later. I can’t thank Allah enough that He’s again put all of us together under one roof. The only sibling missing is our brother. Perhaps he too will join us here someday although he’s terrible at cooking,” she joked as she laid out an iftar spread of traditional South African delights and customary items like dates and labaan.

Originally from Oyo, an inland state in south-western Nigeria, the Ashimi sisters belong to Yoruba tribe — one of the three largest ethnic groups of Nigeria concentrated in the southwestern part of the country.

Pounded yam (tuber vegetables) is one of Nigeria’s most popular dishes. But it was missing from the iftar. “Yam is full of nutrients and a good source of energy So we have it for suhour instead,” explained Nabilat as she served us a dough-based snack called puff-puff, jolloff rice (rice cooked in a spicy blend of tomatoes, onions and blended peppers) and gizdodo which is essentially aromatic stewed chicken gizzard and plantains infused with herbs and bell-peppers

“Each one of us is good at something. So we divide our responsibilities. Cooking together not just saves times, it also strengthens our bonds,” Suad says.

But are the ingredients of their traditional dishes readily available?

“Mostly, yes. What we can’t find, we improvise. In gizdodo for instance, we used the Indian banana instead of plantains. You can’t tell the difference,” said Nabilat.

But there were no shortcuts when it came to the bright red refreshing Nigerian beverage called Zobo.

“Zobo is made from dried hibiscus leaves (sorrel or roselle) but the Nigerian sisters wouldn’t settle for those available in local supermarkets. “We get hibiscus leaves from our own country as they are the best,” said Iman before adding, “My mum makes the best zobo in the world,”

This Ramadan is truly special for the sisters as their dad is likely to visit them towards the end of the month.

“We can’t wait to celebrate Eid with him. He will be delighted to see all his daughters become independent and self-reliant,” said Asma.

Jolof rice

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Nigerian dish Jollof rice displayed during the Nigerian iftar at Sharjah. Image Credit: Atiq Ur Rehman /Gulf News

Ingredients: Onion, tomato sauce, basmatic rice, pepper, chicken and chicken stock

Preparation;

1. Blend tomatoes, peppers in a food processor for about 45 seconds

2. In a pot, heat oil. Once done, add onions and fry just until they are golden brown. Add tomato paste and fry for 2-3 minutes. Then add the blended tomato mixture and fry with the onions and tomato paste for about 30 minutes. Stir consistently.

3. After 30 minutes, turn the heat down to medium, and add the chicken stock. Mix and add your seasonings.

4. Add rice to the pot and mix it well with the tomato stew. Cover the pot and cook on medium to low heat for 15-30 minutes.

5. When the liquid has almost dried up, add the remaining tomato stew. Cover, and let it cook for another 5-10 minutes until the liquid has completely dried up. Turn off the heat, mix thoroughly, and your Jollof Rice is ready to be served.