EVANSVILLE, Ind. — It’s been 18 years since the members of the Islamic Society of Evansville introduced their International Food Festival as a way to invite people into their space, share a sense of community, answer questions and give back to those in need.
For nearly two decades, the ladies of the Islamic Society have gathered together, at the Islamic Center and at private homes, several days ahead of the event to create thousands of servings of the favorite foods of the Middle East, India and Pakistan and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Food is one constant that binds all cultures. We all need it; we all like it, and sharing it brings us closer.
“This is an outreach event for the community,” Erum Syed, of Carmi, Illinois, said. “It benefits the Tri-State Food Bank; we try to contribute however we can to live in an integrated society and to do something for others.”
Event organizer Bushra Saqib added, “I want people to see that we are normal people, that we are living our lives with our families. This is a good opportunity to show some diversity, and it will help people understand the faith that touches on everything.”
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Each year a couple of new dishes are added to the extensive menu to keep things exciting.
This year, Persian rice will be introduced — a sweet and savory pilaf with dried cherries, orange zest and saffron. It will join chicken biryani, Afghani pilaf with raisins and carrots, spiced kebsa rice and Egyptian kosharee (rice layered with pasta and lentils) to create a rainbow of delicious rice dishes.
Samosas — spiced potatoes encased in a fried shell — are a perennial favorite. The shell can be made with flour tortillas, but this year even the dough will be hand-made and painstakingly hand-rolled by Samaira Ahmed, known as the Samosa Queen to her friends. The chunky mashed potato filling is flavored with cumin seed and cilantro.
If you’ve never been to the Islamic Center or are unsure about how local Muslims live and what is important to them, members of the Islamic Society said they’d love for you to come to the food festival, share lunch, try something new, tour the mosque and ask lots of questions.
“Education is the key to ending intolerance,” Saqib said. “I’ve seen a lot of minds change after people come to the Islamic center to talk to us. Some people who are apprehensive come and see. If we see people post something negative on our social media, we issue them an invitation to come and see who we are. I’m not going to be hateful; we just do it with love and act with goodwill and tell them who we are.”
The event is hosted outdoors. Come prepared to wait in line for a little while, as high attendance means long lines. Children may enjoy the playground equipment.
There will also be a bazaar, henna tattooing and the cookbook From Our Table to Yours from the Women of the Islamic Society of Evansville will be available for $10.
Baklava — buttery phyllo pastry, with walnuts and sugar, baked until flaky and covered in special syrup.
Basboosa — semolina (Cream of Wheat) cake bathed in syrup and topped with an almond.
Beef shish kebab — 1/4lb. ground beef blended with onion, parsley and spices, hand-formed, flame-broiled
Bhel puri — salad with tomato, onion, chickpeas, potatoes, savory puffed rice, served with chutney, contains peanuts
Brownies — rich chocolate dessert favorite
Butter chicken — chicken in a mildly spiced, tomato-based creamy sauce
Chicken biryani — rice with tender chicken and mouthwatering spices
Date cakes — homemade pastry filled with dates, cinnamon, topped with sesame seeds
Falafel sandwich — spicy deep-fried chickpea patties with lettuce, tomato, zesty tahini (sesame paste) and yogurt sauce, served in pita bread
Fatayer — baked pastry stuffed with spinach and onion or olives, cream cheese, onions and green pepper
Grape leaves — hand-rolled grape leaves stuffed with rice, tomato, onion, parsley and spices then gently steamed
Gulab jaman — rich dough ball deep-fried and swimming in sweet syrup
Hummus — traditional dip made with pureed chickpeas; tahini (sesame paste), lemon juice & garlic served with 1/4 pita bread
Kanafa — sweet pastry made with thin strands of kataifi (shredded wheat) dough, custard filling and sugar syrup.
Khoshari — lentils, rice, and macaroni, topped with browned onions and tangy tomato sauce
Ma’amoul — tender, buttery cookie with smooth date filling, formed by hand with special tool
Mango ice — real mango fruit blended with sugar and ice; refreshingly cool and smooth
Musakhan — baked flatbread brushed with olive oil and filled with sautéed chicken, onion and sumac
Pakora — spicy batter-dipped vegetables, deep-fried and extra crunchy
Pita bread — one whole piece of traditional bread
Rice pilau — long-grain rice spiced & garnished with sautéed vegetables
Samosa — hand-stuffed pastry filled with spicy potatoes & deep fried
Tabbouleh — classic salad made with parsley, cracked wheat, tomato, onion, olive oil, lemon juice and seasonings
Tandoori chicken — grilled chicken tenderloin strips marinated in Asian-style spices
Za’atar bread — quarter piece of homemade pita bread brushed with olive oil, za’atar spice mix (thyme, oregano, sumac, sesame seeds, salt)
If you go
What: 18th Annual International Food Festival
Where: The Islamic Society of Evansville, 4200 Grimm Rd.
When: Sunday, October 6, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
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