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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
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.
- 1 1/2 pounds potatoes
- 5 eggs
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (or more, to taste)
- 1 teaspoon freshly crushed black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed to a powder
- neutral oil, for shallow-frying
- 2 teaspoons saffron threads, crushed into powder in a pestle and mortar
- 4 to 5 tablespoons warm water
- 2 leeks, whites and tender green parts only, halved, thinly sliced into half-moon shapes and washed well
- 1 cup herbs of your choice (I use cilantro, leaves and stems; Italian flat-leaf parsley, leaves only; and mint, leaves only)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound shrimp, shell on, deveined, and washed
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- sea salt, to taste
- 3 cups full-fat yogurt (strained/Greek-style)
- 2 pickling cucumbers (or 1 English cucumber), peeled, halved, seeded, and grated
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon dried mint, plus extra for garnish
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus more if needed
- dried rose petals (optional)
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
- 8 to 10 green cardamom pods
- 4 ounces chocolate (60 to 70%)
- 6 ounces unsalted butter
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 teaspoons espresso grounds from your favorite coffee bean
- 3 medium eggs
- 1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons shelled pistachios, unsalted
- Dried rose petals (optional; available in Middle Eastern grocery stores)
- Cocoa powder, to dust on top
What do you eat to celebrate iftar? Share your Ramadan traditions in the comments below.