Many eateries will be offering lavish family feasts when the sun goes down. With a host of delicious dishes on offer, here are some of the more traditional ways to break the fast during iftar
Sunnah Sunnah is a small dish of dates and water (or milk). 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 fast.
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. Bilhamoud and shorat are soups made from ground lentils that are often served with Jordanian, Syrian or Lebanese salads. Soups or stews with an accompanying salad might be chosen instead of a serving of the traditional Arabic flatbread, as these lighter options will lessen feelings of bloating following the iftar meal.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, with fishing steeped in the history of Dubai and the UAE, 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.
Lamb is a regular feature at the breaking of the fast. Harees is a local delicacy that is likely to be on most Emirati iftar dinner tables. Shredded pieces of slow-cooked lamb and boiled wheat are ground together to create the dish. Cinnamon and cumin can be added for extra flavour. A more extravagant spit-roast lamb, where an entire lamb is hollowed out and stuffed with minced meat, nuts and rice before being spit roasted, is also a traditional part of the iftar feast.
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. Another sweet favourite during iftar is Katyef, a traditional pastry pancake filled with cream or crushed walnuts and almonds. It’s similar to an éclair, but without the chocolate topping. 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.
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. Gamet jallab, a drink that contains rosewater, grape extract and sugar over ice, is one of the most thirst quenching drinks for this traditional feast. Tamer hindi, a refreshing drink whose name means ‘Indian date’, is a root-based drink made from the fruit pods of trees native to Asia, and its taste is distinctive and sweet. More substantial drinks are also popular, such as ayran – a lassi-like, yoghurt-based drink diluted and flavoured with mint – and laban – a buttermilk-style drink, traditional in Oman.
Food stylist Gabby Athkinson shares her recipe for Middle Eastern roast lamb with orange and pistachio couscous (serves six).
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ cup pomegranate molasses
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
1.5kg leg of lamb, boned and butterflied
1½ cups fresh orange juice
½ cup water
2 cups couscous
1 tablespoon orange rind, finely grated
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup roasted pistachios
¼ cup fresh chopped mint
¼ cup fresh chopped coriander
Mix all marinade ingredients together in a food processor. Place lamb in a large dish, cover and refrigerate for at least two hours. Preheat oven to 200 ̊C. Shake excess marinade off lamb, place in a roasting dish and roast for 1 hour 20 minutes, or until cooked. (Alternatively, the lamb can be cooked on a barbecue). Cover and allow to rest for 20 minutes before slicing. To prepare the couscous, place orange juice, water and grated rind in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil, then remove from heat and add cousous. Once liquid is absorbed, add remaining ingredients and serve with lamb.
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