Breaking the fast with cold, thirst-quenching fruit – whether sweet watermelon, ripe pineapple chunks or juicy lychees – was never a tradition in Fathima Mansoor Ahmed's household while growing up in South Africa. But here, in the heat of Dubai, after 15 hours of fasting, tropical fruit has become a mainstay of the family's iftar table.
“It’s just so hot here, and my children and husband look for something refreshing and cooling at iftar time, which can also quench the thirst and help replenish the water in our bodies. We often love having watermelon and melon, as well as mangoes,” says Ahmed, a mother of three.
Her children, Zahraa, 14, Maryam, 11, and sometimes even Muhammad, 7, have all been fasting this Ramadan, eager to partake in something that their parents, friends and family members seem to so enjoy doing. "They've taken to it like a duck to water, and are managing very well," their mother says. "It's harder for them here with the long days and the heat, and yet they've surprised me with how well they've handled it."
Ahmed runs Table for Five Dubai, a popular Instagram account where she blogs about food, creates and develops recipes, and plates and photographs dishes that she has cooked. Based on this evidence, the assumption would be that her family's table is heavy with mouth-watering dishes come iftar time.
"Traditionally, Muslims all like to eat quite a bit during Ramadan, and cook a lot more than they can eat after a day of fasting, but in my family, we try to resist that urge to overeat," Ahmed explains. She says she keeps the food quite simple and straightforward during the holy month, but still manages to pay tribute to the tastes and flavours of the family's home country, as well as including favourite dishes.
"My mom is a really amazing cook and, growing up, she would make a whole lot of food for us, all fresh, all from scratch, nothing frozen," she says. "She'd make the most delicious savouries for us to dig into at iftar time: samosas and spring rolls and pies, things like that. All fried, of course.
“I don’t do that. I don’t fry; I try to keep it healthier and air-fry, and I take the time before Ramadan starts to make a huge batch of savouries and freeze them, so I can have them ready to take out before iftar.”
She makes extra cheese and corn samosas, spiced with coriander and a touch of cumin, as well as pizza rolls and chicken spring rolls – all favourites of her children.
One treat from Ahmed's childhood, however, has remained unchanged in her Ramadan traditions: a rose-flavoured milkshake she admits to being "obsessed" with. "You can find this drink in most South African households," she says. "It's the first thing I'd have for iftar when I was younger. I had a little toy blender that I brought in for show-and-tell to make the milkshake in. My kids make their own version now; they love doing it."
The recipe is simple: combine vanilla ice cream with milk, rose syrup and a pinch of cardamom, then blend.
The rose milkshake, some dates, warm savouries and a plate of hot haleem soup – a stew of spices and broken wheat that Ahmed now makes with oats instead – are all staples for iftar in South Africa, as well as in the family's Dubai household. The main dish often contains Indian, Malay or Indonesian flavours, and could be anything from a grilled chicken or lamb chops and roast potatoes to, less often, a curry with rice or roti bread. "Sometimes, it's just mac and cheese, as requested by the children," Ahmed says.
Living in Dubai means adapting to a different climate during Ramadan, and creating new family traditions, which means fruit for iftar, Ahmed says. "I don't want to spend all day in the kitchen preparing food – I'd rather have more time for spiritual reflection rather than being stuck folding samosas every day, which is why I start a lot earlier nowadays to fill up my freezer with the samosas, for example."
Some things, however, are best made fresh, as is the case with the family’s favourite dessert: dhai wara. “It’s a South African-slash-Indian dessert really, and definitely popular during Ramadan. It’s basically puffed-up dough that you fry then dip in syrup and coconut. My kids love it,” Ahmed says.
1½ tbsp ghee
1 cup flour
1½ tsp baking powder
½ cup yogurt
1½ cups sugar
Coconut powder for dusting
Rub the ghee into the flour and baking powder. Add yogurt to make a dough.
Let the dough rest for an hour. Roll out and cut into shapes of your choice. Fry in deep, hot oil, gently pushing down with a strainer so that it puffs up well. Make the syrup by boiling the sugar in ¾ cup water, until the consistency is sticky. When cooled, dip in, rather than soaking, in the syrup, then dust with coconut.
Adapted from Food with Flair