Get into the spirit of Ramadan and invite your friends, family, colleagues and neighbours for a traditional iftar.
Before you begin…
• Stock up on everything you need in the days before and prepare everything well in advance of the meal – no-one wants to wait for you to put the finishing touches to your dishes when they haven’t eaten all day.
• Turn to a local radio station so you know the exact moment when everyone can break their fast.
• Download some traditional Arabic music to set the scene. If you’re unfamiliar with the genre, go for some well-known classics like Fairouz, Kadem el Saher, Nancy Arjam or Ehab Tawfik, or check out the iTunes Arabic singles chart.
Break the fast: Sunnah
Fast is traditionally broken with dates and water or milk. Offer your guests a small bowl each with some dates, dried fruit and nuts, and have a table laid out with glasses of milk and water. It may not sound like much, but it’s the most humble and traditional way to break the fast. With the sweet taste and high sugar content of the dates, it will provide much needed energy to replenish and boost the levels lost during the day.
Serve the first course: Salads and soups
It’s customary for those breaking the fast to start light, by consuming salad, mezze such as hummus, soup or a watery stew first. These are light on the stomach and contain all the healthy nutrients that the body will be starved of following the fast. Try making a zingy tabbouleh (see ‘essential recipes’), which is simple to make, and serving it alongside a harira soup, which is a thin soup full of lamb, veg and other legumes like chickpeas and lentils. You could also serve a simple selection of mezze like hummus or vine leaves.
Serve the main course: Fish and meat
It’s unusual to find vegetarian options at iftar – most traditional dishes incorporate chicken, lamb or fish. Perhaps unsurprisingly, with fishing steeped in the history of the GCC, seafood can be an important part in the breaking of the fast. Kepsa bel sanak is a traditional local dish of fragrant rice and a fish casserole, flavoured with cumin and peppers. This dish can be a little on the salty side and could exacerbate dehydration during the intense heat of summer, so it should be accompanied with plenty of water. For a different take on a traditional lamb course, try pairing Middle Eastern roast lamb with orange and pistachio couscous.
Increasing energy is an essential part of breaking the fast, so sugary desserts are best. Kunafeh will provide a quick boost to those feeling depleted by the time the sun goes down. It’s a popular Arabic dessert that consists of a soft white cheese topped with cracked semolina. The dessert is baked to form a hard crust and is then served up with a sweet syrup. Also expect a vast helping of traditional baklava – rich sweets made with layers of pastry and chopped nuts, sweetened with syrup or honey. For those who crave a more savoury-sweet dessert that will provide a slower release of energy, the traditional Emirati assidat al-boubar – a luxurious pumpkin porridge, or halvah in Arabic – can act as the perfect alternative treat at iftar.
Popular drinks for iftar include ayran (a lassi like, yoghurt-based drink diluted and flavoured with mint) and laban (a buttermilk-style drink, traditional in Oman). We suggest you also prepare copious amounts of a refreshing, thirst-quenching drink like jallab, which is made by adding two tablespoons of date molasses, two teaspoons of rosewater and a small handful of sliced almonds, to a glass of water and ice. Refreshing drinks are of paramount importance when breaking the fast. A lack of water and hydration during the intense heat of the day will need to be addressed by sunset, so refreshing drinks form an obvious and vital part of any iftar meal.
Tea and coffee
As with any dinner party, offer your guests tea or coffee after the meal. Brew up some delicious Arabic coffee and serve a traditional and local tea like karak chai.
Iftar meals are lively affairs so have plenty of games ready for the evening. Packs of cards, your favourite board games and charades are all great options for a fun night. For something more traditional, get in a carrom or a backgammon board (and learn the rules beforehand!).