Middle Eastern

Iftar Recipes for Breaking the Ramadan Fast

June  8, 2016

Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar, is a time for self-restraint and focusing on the spiritual, as well as giving thanks and empathizing with those less fortunate. During the month, Muslims fast—meaning no food or drink—from sunrise to sunset. Iftar, the breaking of that fast, is a celebratory ritual when families and friends from the community share a meal at sunset.

This holy month always reminds me of one particular Ramadan I spent with my maternal grandmother in Lahore, Pakistan during the summer. As per Muslim tradition all around the world, our family would break our fast with toffee-sweet dates and water, before offering maghrib prayers (the fourth of the five daily prayers). My grandmother and her kitchen helper would set out small ceramic bowls filled with dates and nuts, as well as pitchers of icy water and salty lassi. And for me, my grandmother would cut slices of plump Sindhri mangoes, top them with malai (clotted cream), and scatter them with salted crushed almonds.

And then the time would come a bit of indulgence in treats not normally eaten on a daily basis: pakoras (spicy vegetable fritters for dunking in coriander and garlic chutney); samosas (triangular pastries stuffed with cumin-spiced potatoes); and dahi vadas (lentil dumplings in yogurt sauce). Tea would be poured for the adults, with a spot of milk added to each cup, and platters would be passed around the table. And this was just the beginning of iftar: The main dishes would follow as the night went on.

I would love to replicate this ritual of preparing an abundant table in my Toronto kitchen, but life here has a different pace to it—on weeknights, preparing an elaborate iftar like the one in my grandmother’s home can be quite challenging. With my family living thousands of miles away, I tend to improvise as to how we eat during Ramadan while continuing to uphold the celebratory spirit of an iftar. We still break the fast with dates and water, but now, I prepare just a few treats per night

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Some evenings, I like to turn to my Persian roots and make kuku sibzamini (flat, saffron-laced potato fritters), which remind me of the pakoras from my grandmother’s home in Lahore. They’re prepared in a bit of shallow olive oil, so you don’t have to deep-fry (as one does with pakoras). With this, I like to serve a dip called mast-o-khiar, which is made of strained yogurt, grated cucumber, and crushed walnuts, then adorned with rose petal dust and olive oil. It’s gorgeous with kuku sibzamini, or even with your crackers or crusty bread.

On days when you want a bit of protein to break your fast, you can prepare maygu sabzi (herbed shrimp with saffron butter) and enjoy it with bread. Washed down with some cardamom and saffron lemonade, it’s just the ticket after a day of fasting.

And on Friday, which has special significance for Muslims, satisfy your sweet tooth during iftar with some cardamom brownies served alongside a milky cardamom-infused tea.

Iftar in Toronto isn’t quite the same as being in Lahore with the family, but this city is now my home, and the home of my husband and my almost-four-year-old boy—and it’s where we gather around the table and, this month, invite you to join us too.

Wishing everyone Ramadan Kareem. Happy Ramadan.

What do you eat to celebrate iftar? Share your Ramadan traditions in the comments below.

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Shayma Saadat is a cookery teacher, food writer, stylist and photographer who focuses on the food of her heritage - Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, which she refers to as Silk Route cuisine. Shayma lives in Toronto with her husband and son. You can follow her culinary journey on Instagram @SpiceSpoon.