As the first course of iftar, this hearty and flavourful lentil soup with tomatoes, shredded meat and beans is a true taste of the Middle East even though it's actually from Morocco; given extra depth with spices like saffron, ginger and pepper.
A distant cousin of harira, this thicker, savoury porridge-like bowl is bulked up with cracked wheat and shredded meat or chicken. Slowly cooked for the release of optimum flavours, it’s an Arabic version of the popular Indian and Pakistani dish called haleem.
These are delicious triangular deep-fried pastries stuffed with spiced meat or feta cheese. They are usually made with filo pastry, but homemade pastry gives these light bites more substance. Either way, it’s unlikely you will stop at just one!
They say that the best things come to those who wait and this traditional dish of a whole spiced lamb that is cooked for a full 24 hours is no exception. Mixed with fragrantly spiced rice, nuts and fruit, this is an original sweet and savoury combination that was mastered long before the food trend.
Hailing from Iran, this is a thick, mildly spiced chicken stew that features the popular Persian ingredient staples of pomegranate molasses and walnuts. Its dark-brown fibrous appearance is syrupy but it’s usually tart. Spoon over fluffy rice for a deliciously different culinary experience.
Translating into ‘upside-down’ in Arabic, the aptly named national dish of Palestine is layers of tomatoes, meat or chicken, aubergine and cauliflower topped with rice, which is then turned on its head. Try drizzling a yoghurt-based sauce on top.
A lentil-and-rice pilaf topped with caramelised onions and seasoned with coriander, cumin, garlic and bay leaves that makes a light and healthy main course that will still leave you room for dessert!
This cold, creamy white rice pudding is infused with the authentic Arabic flavours of rosewater and pistachios, for a fragrant sweet end to the meal.
Luckily for us, this dessert’s invention was serendipitous, created by Umm Ali (‘the Mother of Ali’), the best cook of an Egyptian village who filled a large pot with whatever little she had – scraps of bread and nuts – combining them with milk and sugar before putting them in the oven to feed a hungry sultan who was passing through. He loved it so much that he returned to the village at a later date just so he could eat it again and that’s how this world-famous dish got its name. There are many variations of the recipe but honestly, I have yet to meet one that I didn’t like!
This speciality of the Levant is so popular that there are many disputes as to exactly which country it originated in, with everyone wanting to lay claim on its creation. It’s a creamy cheese concoction, a bit like a Danish, sandwiched between a crumbly vermicelli crust that’s soaked in sugar syrup and rounded off with pistachios – we could eat it as a starter, main and dessert!
Ahlan!’s Guide to Iftar Etiquette
Iftar: The breaking of the fast – is served from sunset, and is followed by suhour, either a later seating in hotels and restaurants, or, at home, the meal before sunrise. Food and soft drinks will still be served during the day in some restaurants and cafés, but this will be done behind screens and curtains out of respect to those fasting; however, the best meal you can have will be iftar. Ramadan is your chance to experience regional cuisine at a time of goodwill.
Dress code: Behave with the utmost respect during Ramadan. This includes dressing conservatively, especially at iftar. Cover your knees and shoulders; opt for maxi dresses, or trousers and jackets to avoid causing offence (and getting chilled by the A/C).
Show courtesy at the buffet. There’s plenty of food to go around, so invite your fellow diners to go first – even if you’ve been fasting. A few more minutes won’t hurt.
Say hello: During iftar it’s common to share huge tables with other families – introduce yourself and wish them “Ramadan Kareem!”.
And finally… try the kunafeh desserts. They’re fab.