Spending time with my family is one of the things I love most about Ramadan. But when you’re both the mum and the cook/host, things can get pretty hectic.
I’ll often have the whole family over for the iftar dinner during the month of Ramadan. And as usual, my mum will be watching me cook and telling me to do things differently. Then my mother-in-law will also share her ideas on how I should do it.
The old problem of too many cooks in the kitchen is not something anyone wants to handle when trying to get things done. So while I agree with their suggestions—they are excellent cooks and I do learn a lot from them—I’ll still do it my way since I know very well how my boys and Gus like the food.
Meanwhile, my sisters will be having their own conversations in the living room with the children hanging around playing, stopping only to ask if the food is ready yet.
And then there’s also the “rush hour”, as I like to call it—that last hour before the breaking of the fast when I no longer have the kitchen to myself as everyone comes in to chat, complain and give their opinion on this and that. It’s no wonder I’m always late, to be honest.
What I’ve discovered over the years is that the key when preparing food for a family gathering is not to get carried away. A little bit of everything will be just enough, especially during Ramadan. We mainly avoid having leftovers other than soup since they cannot be eaten for lunch during the day. So if I have enough leftovers to last me the night, I’m more than happy.
Moreover, I’ll always stock up on essential pantry items a few days before hosting an iftar dinner to skip those last-minute shopping trips. I’ll also save myself some time by setting the table the night before and prepping the main ingredients after suhoor or a bit later in the day.
It’s little things like these that help me successfully navigate the hustle and bustle of my crowded kitchen during the “rush hour”.
What’s for Iftar Dinner?
When it comes to planning the iftar menu, I make sure that I’ve got everyone covered, including my boys. They will also be fasting, so I’ll add some of their favourite recipes to that list.
First things first, every iftar table starts with dates. Most times, a plate will get passed around in the kitchen when it’s the exact time to break the fast, and that’s because it’s highly likely I’m still in there doing the last touch-ups.
Then it’s time for some warm, comforting soup. I will either heat the soup I’ve made that day or the leftovers from the day before. The best thing is that soup can be heated up to 30-40 minutes ahead and kept warm until dinner time.
We’ll also have kibbeh nayeeh (lamb tartar), a must at our Iftar table. I usually plate the raw lamb, then cover and refrigerate it without adding the garnish. Just before everything else is ready, I’ll get it out and drizzle it with olive oil.
Another favourite on our menu is the batata hara (spicy roast potatoes). Since this meal should be served warm, I’ll partially cook the potatoes earlier in the day without placing them in the fridge. Then I’ll also dice the remaining ingredients so that all I have to do just before dinner is cook the potatoes for another half an hour and toss everything together.
I like to prepare some Arabian rice as well since it’s the perfect comfort food that will feed my entire hungry family. But I’ll also have some chicken chops in the oven, which I make sure to time so they’re ready 5 minutes before dinner. In those last minutes, I’ll be in the kitchen carefully plating them with my children continuously rushing me to get on with it.
As a side dish, I’ll make a bowl of fattoush salad, a crowd-pleaser that won’t take more than 5 minutes to dress. This is also one of those last-minute tasks I have to take care of, as the fried bread will get too soggy if I add the dressing too early.
Sometimes I will disregard the menu I’ve promised to stick to and throw in the chickpea fatteh recipe as it’s one of my all-time favourites. Moreover, I convince myself that since I’m already frying the bread for the fattoush salad, I might as well go ahead and fry some more for a small bowl of fatteh.
The only thing is that I need a stove burner to cook the chickpeas. And since this dish can only be assembled in the last few minutes, it will make me a little late. Not an issue for me considering its delicious taste, but for my hungry boys, every minute over dinner time feels like an hour.
As everything is almost ready and the dishes are being put on the table, I find myself planning how and when I’ll finally be able to make some coffee.
Last but not least, there’s the matter of the dessert. After a full day of cooking, no one wants to be in the kitchen after the iftar dinner. Therefore, I’ll often make use of the desserts I have at that time in the freezer—either a cheesecake or another freezer-friendly treat.
After dinner, the atmosphere eases up as everyone’s belly is full. My family is lazily hanging around the table chatting and laughing. And I am sitting there enjoying the peacefulness of that moment until someone asks, “What are you making for tomorrow’s iftar?”.
Then everyone starts pitching in with what they would want to eat while I’m seriously wondering if it’s too late to have a second cup of coffee.
What does a typical Ramadan day look like in your family? Looking forward to your stories. Ramadan Mubarak!