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Refugees share tastes of home over Ramadan

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Refugees share tastes of home over Ramadan

UNHCR celebrates culture and cuisine over Ramadan, with refugee recipes.
17 May 2018
Parastoo and her mother Elahe cooking food from their home country of Iran, including Mirzah Ghasemi (smoked aubergines with egg) and Adas Polo (meatballs with rice and lentils).

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency has teamed up with Migrateful, an initative helping refugee and migrant chefs teach their traditional cuisines to the public, to bring you some delicious recipes made by refugees in the UK. Come together with family and friends, to celebrate the cuisines and cultures of refugees, whilst also remembering those refugees around the world longing for a peaceful Ramadan. 

Try some delicious recipes below.


Haifaa's Syrian mezze

"Despite the conflict, Syria is a wonderful country, famous for its delicious and diverse variety of food." Before the conflict Haifaa was a former teacher in Damascus. At Migrateful she continues to cook her food from home.


Accross the Middle East, falafel is a popular addition to any mezze table. Exact recipes vary by country and by cook, as do the accompaniments. Syrian refugee Haifaa has made a version here served with salad but you can also stuff pitta breads with the falafel, salad and accompaniments for a convenient, hand-held vegetarian meal.

Serves 4

Preparation: 20 minutes, plus at least 6 hours soaking / Cooking time: 20 minutes

The finished dish: Haifaa's falafel served on a bed of salad, served with yoghurt. Also great stuffed in pittas for a convenient, hand-held meal.


For the falafel

  • 250g dried chickpeas, soaked in water for at least 6 hours or overnight

  • 1 small onion, peeled and grated or finely chopped  

  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

  • ½ tsp salt

  • ½ tsp ground white pepper

  • ¼ tsp ground ginger

  • ½ tsp coriander seeds, crushed

  • ½ tsp ground cumin

  • ¼ tsp black cardamom powder

  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

  • ¼ tsp baking powder

  • 1L sunflower oil, for deep-frying

For the salad

  • 8 large lettuce leaves, chopped

  • 2 tomatoes, sliced

  • ½ cucumber, sliced

  • Small handful of fresh parsley, stalks removed and leaves chopped


  • Pitta breads

  • Sliced pickles

  • Natural yogurt

  • Tahini (can be thinned with a little water and lemon juice)

  • Pomegranate molasses


  1. Drain the dried chickpeas, rinse and drain again thoroughly, then transfer them to a food processor and process until finely ground.

  2. Add the remaining falafel ingredients, except for the oil, and process again until well combined.

  3. Using your hands, shape the falafel mix into oval-shaped balls, using 1 tablespoon of the mixture for each falafel.

  4. Fill a heavy-based saucepan with oil to about 5 cm and heat over a medium heat until 180C/350F. If you don’t have a thermometer, test fry one falafel - it should sizzle when it hits the oil. Fry the falafel for about 4 minutes, or until brown and crisp on the outside but cooked through. Cook in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Use a slotted spoon to remove the falafel from the pan, then drain them on kitchen paper.

  5. To make the salad, arrange the lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber on a serving dish. Top with the falafel and sprinkle with the chopped parsley. Serve with pitta breads and bowls of pickles, yogurt, tahini and pomegranate molasses alongside  for guests to serve themselves.



Syrian aubergine dip

This aubergine dip can be served with flatbreads as part of a meze platter. If you can, do cook the aubergines on the gas or over a BBQ as it adds a delicious smokey flavour, but an oven grill will also do the job.

Serves 4-6

Moutabal: a tasty, smokey aubergine dip. Delicious with flatbread or pitta.


  • 3 aubergines

  • 500g natural yogurt

  • 4 tbsp tahini

  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses

  • 1/2 tsp salt

To garnish

  • 1 small handful fresh parsley leaves, chopped

  • 1 tomato, sliced

  • 2 tbsp olive oil

  • Pitta bread, to serve


  1. Pierce the aubergines with a knife a few times, then place directly over a gas flame. Cook for about 15 minutes until very soft and blackened, using tongs to turn frequently. Alternatively, preheat the grill to medium, put the pricked aubergines on a baking sheet and grill for 30 minutes, turning occasionally, until very soft and blackened.

  2. Trim the tops off the aubergines and remove the burnt skins, by either peeling them off or cutting the aubergines in half lengthwise and scooping out the soft flesh.  Place the flesh into a sieve and leave for 10-15 mins to drain off excess liquid. Transfer to a bowl and mash until smooth.

  3. Mix in the yogurt, tahini, garlic, pomegranate molasses, salt and all but 2 tablespoons of the parsley. Check the seasoning.

  4. Cover with cling film and transfer to the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavours to develop.

  5. When ready to serve, uncover and arrange the tomatoes over the top. Sprinkle with the remaining parsley and drizzle with the olive oil. Serve with pitta bread.

Elahe and Parastoo's Iranian feast

Iranian refugees Elahe and her daughter Parastoo hold the finished Adas Polo, meatballs with spiced rice and lentils.

Mirzah Ghasemi

Smoked Aubergines with Fried Eggs

Mirzah Ghasemi is an Iranian dish made with smokey aubergines and a rich tomato sauce. Charring the aubergines on the hob gives the dish a deliciously smokey flavour. If you don’t have a gas hob, you can roast the whole aubergines in the oven instead. Delicious served with flatbreads.

Serves:  4

Preparation: 15 minutes / Cooking time: 45 minutes

Mirzah Ghasemi, an Iranian dish cooked with smoked aubergines and tomatoes, topped with fried eggs.


  • 2 large aubergines

  • ½ tsp saffron threads

  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed or finely chopped

  • 2 tsp ground turmeric

  • ½ tsp ground black pepper

  • Salt, to taste

  • 500g tomatoes, chopped

  • 70g tomato purée

  • 5 tbsp vegetable oil

  • 4 eggs

To garnish

  • fresh coriander leaves,

  • cherry tomatoes


  1. Place the aubergines directly onto the gas hob and char over a medium flame for about 5 minutes, using tongs to turn occasionally until the skin is well charred and the aubergine is very soft. The aubergine will look burnt, but it is this process which gives it the smokey flavour. Transfer to a plate to cool. ​

  2. If you do not have a gas hob, you can bake them. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Prick the aubergines in a couple of places, place on a baking sheet and roast them in the oven for 40-45 minutes until the skin is charred and the flesh very soft.

  3. When the aubergines are cool enough to handle, carefully peel off and discard the burnt skin and chop the flesh into small chunks.

  4. Heat 3 tbsp oil in a large pan over a low heat, and gently fry the garlic for 2 minutes until golden, stirring continuously to prevent it from burning (remove the pan from the heat if you think that it is burning), before adding the turmeric, pepper and salt.

  5. Stir in the tomatoes and tomato purée and cook gently for 20 minutes on a low heat.

  6. Add the aubergines and cook for a further 15 minutes, until meltingly soft.

  7. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, cover the saffron threads with 4 tbsp of just boiled water and set aside to soak for at least 10 minutes.

  8. Heat the remaining 2 tbsp oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and crack the eggs into the pan to create 4 fried eggs. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and cook until the whites are set and the yolk still runny.

  9. Transfer the aubergine to a large serving dish and top with the fried eggs. Drizzle over the saffron-infused water and garnish with coriander leaves and cherry tomatoes.

Adas Polo

Meatballs with Spiced Rice and Lentils

This recipe is also delicious, and vegetarian-friendly, if you leave out the meatballs. Be sure to scrape up the crusty bits at the bottom of the rice and lentil pan; in Iran everyone fights over these prized morsels.

Servings:  4
Preparation: 10 mins / Cooking time: 50 minutes

Tumeric-spiced Iranian meatballs used to cook the Iranian dish Adas Polo.


For the Rice and Lentils

  • 250g dried brown lentils, rinsed and checked for stones

  • 300g extra-long grain white Persian rice or white basmati rice, rinsed

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • 1 tsp saffron threads

  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil

For the Meatballs

  • 250g beef mince

  • 250g lamb mince

  • 1 large onion, peeled and grated

  • 2 tsp ground turmeric

  • Salt & ground black pepper, to taste

  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil, for frying

For the Walnut and Raisin topping

  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil

  • 1 large onion, finely chopped

  • 1 tsp ground turmeric

  • salt

  • 250g chopped walnuts

  • 250g raisins

  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

  • Mint leaves, to decorate (optional)


  1. Put the lentils and 750ml water in a large pan and bring to the boil over a high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 20 minutes until just soft. Drain and rinse well to prevent the lentils from discolouring the rice when combined later, then set aside.

  2. While the lentils are cooking, put the minced meat and grated onion into a large bowl and mix well. Add the turmeric, season with salt and pepper and mix again, then roll the mixture into small meatballs.

  3. In a small bowl, cover the saffron threads with 120ml of just boiled water and set aside to soak for at least 10 minutes.

  4. Put the rice, 600ml water, cinnamon stick and a pinch of salt into another large pan, cover and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook, still covered, for 6 minutes.

  5. Add the drained lentils to the cooking rice and mix well. Continue to simmer on a low heat for another 5 minutes, or until the rice is mostly cooked through, then drain the rice and lentil mixture.  

  6. Cover the bottom of the empty pan with the oil. Place over a medium heat. Add 2 tbsp of the saffron mixture, then pour the rice and lentil mixture back into the pan, carefully shaping it into a mound so that it covers the bottom but does not touch the sides of the pan. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp oil and 2 tbsp saffron mixture. Cover and leave it to steam over a low heat for 4 minutes, then reduce the heat to very low and leave to continue steaming while you fry the meatballs and prepare the topping.

  7. To fry the meatballs, heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and add the meatballs. Fry, turning occasionally, for 15-20 minutes until browned and cooked through. Remove the meatballs from the pan and drain on kitchen paper.

  8. To prepare the walnut and raisin topping, heat the oil in a pan over a medium-low heat. Add the finely chopped onion and fry for 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently until golden, then stir in the turmeric, season with salt and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the raisins and walnuts and 2 tbsp of the saffron water. Cover and cook over a low heat for 20 minutes until the whole mixture is nicely browned, then stir in the cinnamon.

  9. To serve, spread the rice and lentils on a large serving dish and cover with the meatballs, then top with the raisin and walnut mixture. Drizzle with the remaining saffron water and sprinkle with a little more cinnamon and, if using, decorate with the mint leaves.

Noors recipe's from Pakistan

Asylum-seeker Noor shares her recipes to make a delicious meal from Pakistan: chicken biryani, pakoras, and raita.


These delicious snacks are very moreish. The mixture can be cooked straight away but is even better if left in the fridge overnight so the flavours have time to develop. Just remember to stir back in any liquid that has been released from the vegetables.

Servings: makes 40-45. Preparation: 20 mins / Cooking time: 20 min


  • 1 medium onion, finely sliced

  • 2 potatoes, peeled and cut into matchsticks

  • 50g baby spinach, shredded

  • 2 green chillies, finely chopped

  • 20g fresh coriander, chopped, including most of the stalks

  • 300g gram flour

  • 1 tbsp salt

  • ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda

  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed

  • 1 tsp red chilli powder

  • vegetable oil for frying


  1. In a large bowl, combine the onion, potato, spinach, green chillies and fresh coriander.

  2. Add in the gram flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, coriander seeds and red chilli powder and mix until the vegetables are well coated.

  3. Add 300-350 mls of water little by little, until you have a smooth thick batter.

  4. Heat 2-3 cm of oil in a large frying pan.

  5. To make each pakora, spoon about 1tbsp of the mixture into the hot oil. You can fry several at one time, but be careful not to overcrowd the pan. Fry until golden, turning once.

  6. Drain on kitchen paper and serve whilst still hot.

Chicken Biryani

Biryani is a favourite dish across the Indian subcontinent.  The recipe & style differs from place to place.  This is Noor’s version.  Bone in chicken thighs have great flavour.  In order to get the flavour from the bones, but reduce cooking time, a useful technique is to cut the thighs lengthways along the bone so that you have one piece with bone, and one without.  The Biryani spice mix can be found in specialist stores, or the world food section of most major supermarkets.

Serves: 4. Preparation: 20 mins | Cooking time: 1 hr

Chicken Biryani made by Migrateful chef Noor, an asylum-seeker from Pakistan.


For the curry

  • 3 tbsp oil

  • 500g onion, finely sliced

  • 1 kg chicken pieces (on the bone), skinned

  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

  • 1 tbsp ginger, finely chopped

  • 50g pack Biryani spice (Masala)

  • 200g yogurt

  • 3 tomatoes, diced

  • 2 - 3 green chillies according to taste

  • For the rice:

  • 500g basmati rice

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • 4 green cardamom pods

  • 2 black cardamom pods

  • 3 cloves

  • 2 star anise

  • 1 tsp cumin seeds

  • 1 tsp turmeric

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 2 chicken stock cubes

To serve:

  • 20g butter

  • 1 small handful mint leaves, chopped

  • ½ lemon sliced


  1. Fry the onions in oil on a medium heat for 10 minutes. Add the chicken and fry until coloured all over (roughly 15 minutes). Add the garlic and ginger and fry for a further 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

  2. Add the Biryani Masala spice mix, fry on a low heat for 5 minutes, then add the yogurt and cook for a further 5 minutes.

  3. Add the tomatoes and cook for a further 10 minutes

  4. Add the green chillies and set aside, covered, until you are ready to build the biryani.

  5. Soak rice in cold water for 15 minutes.

  6. In a large pan, bring 2.5l water to a boil. Once boiling, add cinnamon stick, black and green cardamom, cloves, star anise, cumin, turmeric, salt and chicken stock cubes.

  7. Add the drained rice. Once rice is half-cooked (8 minutes), remove from heat and leave to stand without covering

To serve

  1. In a large pan, melt the butter over a low heat.  Start to build the biryani: begin with a layer of 1/3rd of the rice, then add a layer of half the curry. Repeat again and finish with layer of rice.

  2. Top with lemon slices, and mint leaves.

  3. Cover and let it steam over a very low heat for at least 10 minutes.

  4. Serve with salad and raita.


Serves 4. Preparation: 10 mins


  • 250g natural, full-fat yogurt

  • 1/2 large cucumber, seeded and finely chopped or grated

  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped

  • 1 small bunch fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

  • 1 small bunch fresh coriander leaves, stalks removed and leaves finely chopped

  • 2 tsp cumin seeds

  • Salt & ground black pepper, to take


  1. Put the yogurt, cucumber, garlic, and mint and coriander leaves in a medium bowl, season with salt and pepper and mix together. Transfer to a serving bowl and set aside.

  2. In a small, dry frying pan, toast the cumin seeds over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Stir continuously to prevent them burning.

  3. Sprinkle the cumin seeds over the raita and serve.

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