Ten quirky iftar dishes – with recipes

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We have been eating our way around the country to find the most interesting, unusual and inspired takes on iftar dishes. Here are our favourites.

Arabic Sushi

From executive chef Ron Pietruszka and his team at The Ritz-Carlton, DIFC

Serves 4 to 6


3 cups Japanese rice (preferably Nishiki or Calrose)

3/4 cup of water

1/3 cup rice vinegar

3 tbsp sugar

1 tsp salt

8 pieces nori sheets

Assorted Middle Eastern fillings. See suggestions below.


Rinse the rice 6 to 8 times until the water becomes clear. Drain the rice in a colander and set aside for 20 minutes. Cook rice in a rice cooker. Once cooked, let rice sit for 15 minutes. Prepare sushi vinegar by mixing the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt in a saucepan. Put the pan on low heat and heat until the sugar dissolves. Cool. Spread the rice onto a large plate or a large bowl. Sprinkle the vinegar mixture over the rice and set aside.

Maki Rolling:

Centre one sheet of nori on a bamboo sushi mat and wet your hands. Using your hands, spread a thin layer of rice on the sheet of nori, and press into a thin layer. Arrange the ingredients of your choice in a line down the centre of the rice. Lift the end of the mat, and gently roll it over the ingredients, pressing gently. Roll it forward to make a complete roll. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

*Hand rolls take a bit of practice. Start with this method until you are comfortable before trying more elaborate styles of maki rolling.

Suggested Middle Eastern sushi fillings

Shawarma Maki:

Shawarma chicken, Cos lettuce (Romaine lettuce), Hummus, garlic mayonnaise, Arabic pickle, tomato

Felafel Maki:

Felafel, cucumber, tomato, tahina, pickle, sesame seed

Beetroot maki:

Beetroot moutabel, roasted beetroot baton, black sesame seeds, daikon radish julienne

Tabbouleh Maki:

Tabbouleh, tomato julienne, lollo rosa lettuce, cucumber julienne, preserved lemon, mayonnaise

Felafel Waffles

From chef Majdi Alhinani at The Ritz-Carlton, DIFC

Makes 20 waffles


For felafel:

2kg dry chickpeas, soaked overnight

1.5kg split broad beans, soaked overnight

300g onion, chopped

200g garlic, minced

100g mint leaves

30g salt

30g cumin powder

20g white pepper

300g fresh parsley, chopped

For waffle batter:

3 eggs

140g sugar

500g flour

200ml milk

20g bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)


Wash and dry the chickpeas and broad beans. Mix with all felafel ingredients. Mince felafel mixture in a meat mincer to make a fine paste.

Mix eggs, sugar, flour, milk and soda to form a runny batter.

Mix felafel and waffle mixes together until they form a smooth batter. Set aside for 15 minutes.

Heat the waffle machine and lightly grease with pan coating. Pour the batter into the waffle machine and close the lid until done. Serve hot accompanied with tahini sauce, hummus and/or sweet potato moutabel.

Ramadan Chocolate Milks

From executive chef Ron Pietruszka and his team at The Ritz-Carlton, DIFC

All recipes serve five 200ml servings

Dulcey Date


800g full fat milk

200g Dulcey chocolate

Half a vanilla bean pod

130g dates


Pit and chop the dates. Boil in the milk with vanilla bean until the dates are soft. Mix with a handblender and strain. Weigh the strained mixture and top up with milk until it weighs 930g. Put the chocolate in a pan, and pour the mixture back in the pan. Warm at approximately 60°C until the chocolate melts. Blend for approximately 30 seconds. Serve hot or allow to cool and chill in the fridge until ready to serve cold.

Marrakech Mint


800g skimmed milk

15g Marrakech mint tea leaves

250g white chocolate

6g peppermint paste


Make a cold infusion with milk and tea leaves. Cover and leave to chill overnight in the refrigerator. Strain the milk to remove all the tea leaves. Weigh the milk and top up with fresh milk until it weighs 815g. Bring milk to a boil and pour over the white chocolate until it melts. Emulsify using a handblender, adding the peppermint paste. Blend for 30 seconds. Serve hot or allow to cool and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve cold.

Apricot and Saffron


500g skimmed milk

3g saffron

275g apricot purée

250g Valrhona Ivoire chocolate


Boil the milk and saffron to release the saffron aroma. Cover and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Put the chocolate in a pan and pour the milk mixture over it. Warm at approximately 60°C until the chocolate melts. Mix with a handblender for approximately 30 seconds. Serve hot or allow to cool and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve cold.

Camel Milk Mahalabiya With Raspberry Jelly And Pistachio Praline

From Florian Becker, head chef at Qbara Restaurant Dubai

Serves 15

Ingredients for mahalabiya

500g camel milk

500g full-fat milk

1000g whipping cream

300g sugar

95g white cornflour (also called cornstarch)

10 cardamom pods

150g rosewater

1/2g mastic*

10 sheets/leaves of gelatin

Raspberry jelly

Frozen raspberries

Find mastic in the Istanbul Supermarket (there are 14 stores across the UAE; www.supermarket.istanbuluae.com) or The Lebanese Roastery

Ingredients for pistachio praline

200g pistachio nuts

150g caster sugar

25g unsalted butter

Method for mahalabiya:

Grind the cardamom seeds and mastic into a fine powder. Place into saucepan with the sugar, camel milk, full-fat milk and cream. Make a slurry by adding a small amount of milk to the cornflour, then whisk into the milk, sugar and cream mixture in the saucepan. Slowly bring to a boil over low heat, until thickened and no longer starchy. Meanwhile, soak the gelatin leaves in cold water until bloomed. Add the leaves into the milk starch mixture. Add the rosewater. Mix well with a hand blender.

Method for pistachio praline:

Lightly toast the pistachio nuts, then set aside to cool. Make a dry caramel with the sugar by putting it in a pan over medium heat. Leave it until the edges start to liquefy. Do not stir. It will melt unevenly. Once you see larger portions of molten sugar, swirl the pan. When it reaches a light amber colour, add the butter in small pieces and mix to combine. Add nuts into the caramel and stir to coat. Once the pistachios are full coated, turn the mixture out onto a Silpat mat. Allow to cool completely.

To assemble:

Put 75gm into a glass for the first layer and chill until set. Once set, layer with 1½ tbsp of raspberry jelly and sprinkle with frozen raspberries and chill until set. Once set, add another 75gm of mahalabiya and chill. Serve with pistachio praline.

Beetroot Falafel with Goat Cheese Dressing

Recipe from Tarun Sharma, Executive Chef at Markette, Dubai

Makes 20 Falafels

Ingredients for felafel:

400g beetroot, boiled

20g coriander leaves

5g salt

70g onion, chopped

25g cumin powder

5g Arabic spice

850g fresh chickpeas, soaked

15g coriander seed, crushed

For the goat cheese dressing:

100g goat cheese

25g tahina

10g olive oil

5g salt

60g plain yogurt

80g water

For plating and garnish:

50g pitta bread

30g balsamic reduction

Sakura leaves

Toasted pine nuts

Almond flakes


For felafel:

Preheat the fryer to 280°C. Boil the beetroot in water for 20 minutes until tender. Once cooked, allow to cool down, then grate. Soak the chickpeas in water for two hours before use. Once soft, blend in a food processor until texture is soft, crushed and rustic. Combine grated beetroot, blended chickpeas, coriander, salt, chopped onion, cumin powder, Arabic spice and coriander seeds in a bowl. Using your hands, make round, flat 50g patties from the felafel mix.

For goat cheese dressing:

Mash the goat cheese with a fork in a bowl. If needed, put the goat cheese in the microwave for 30 seconds to help with the mashing process. Mix the mashed goat cheese with the olive oil, tahina, salt, yogurt and water. Set aside.

To assemble:

Fry the felafels in the fryer oven until a crispy outer layer forms. Cut round shapes from the pitta bread, heat in a non-stick pan and set on a serving plate. Lay the fried beetroot felafels on top of each pitta bread round and drizzle with goat cheese dressing and balsamic reduction on top.

Garnish with sakura leaves, toasted pine nuts and almond flakes. Serve warm.

Rose Buttercream Cake

Recipe from Tarun Sharma, executive chef at Markette, Dubai

Ingredients for the sponge:

320g sugar

175g butter

3 medium eggs

330g flour

25g baking powder

2g salt

250g milk

For the buttercream icing:

125g egg whites

300g sugar

50g water

200g softened butter

10g rose essence

*Date paste, optional

Dry rose petals, for garnish

Crushed pistachios, for garnish

Method for the sponge cake:

Preheat oven to 180° Celsius. Cream the sugar and butter together with an electric mixer until well combined. Add in eggs, flour, baking powder, salt and milk. Mix until it forms a dough, then shape into an 8-inch round baking mould. Place the mould in the oven for 15 to 18 minutes until the batter is set. Cake is done when a toothpick inserted into it comes out clean.

Method for the icing:

Whip the egg whites and sugar together in an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Fold in the water, softened butter and rose essence.

To ice the cake:

Once the cake is cool, cut into three horizontal layers. Spread the buttercream frosting in between the three layers. • Optional, add date paste in between the layers for a Middle Eastern taste. For the top layer, use a piping bag to pipe out the buttercream frosting to cover the cake. Garnish with dried rose petals and crushed pistachios.

Smoked balaleet

Recipe from Shaikha Al Ali, founder of www.whenshaikhacooks.com

Serves 10 to 12


200g vermicelli noodles

50g butter

6 tbsp sugar

1 egg

Good pinch of saffron

1/4 tsp cardamom

1 small round aluminium mould

Hot piece of coal

1 teaspoon melted ghee (optional: add a pinch of cardamom and saffron to the ghee for more flavour)


Boil the noodles in water until done and drain. Return noodles to the pan and add butter, sugar, egg, saffron and cardamom. Stir well with a fork until the butter has melted. Return to medium low heat for about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat. Using a spoon, make a space to place the aluminium mould. Add the piece of hot coal and quickly pour the melted ghee over the hot coal in the mould. Cover the pan and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.

Lamb and Zespri SunGold kiwifruit tagine

From Zespri SunGold Kiwifruit, New Zealand

Serves 6


2 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

1 and 1/2 tsp of smoked paprika

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1kg lamb, diced

6 Zespri SunGold kiwifruit, peeled and pulped*

1/4 tsp saffron

3 to 4 cups beef stock

1 to 2 Tbsp butter

3 Zespri SunGold kiwifruit, washed, halved and diced with skin on**

2 and 1/2 cups couscous

1 can (400g) of chickpeas

Pepper and salt, to taste

Fresh coriander, for garnish

Chopped, slivered almonds, for garnish

* Zespri SunGold kiwifruit from New Zealand are in season now and are available in supermarkets across the UAE until September.

** It is fine to eat the skin of the SunGold variety of kiwifruit.


Preheat oven to 180°C. Using a cast iron bottomed casserole dish or a frying pan with lid, add oil and heat. Add onion and sweat for 3 to 5 minutes until soft. Add the chilli, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, ground cumin and ground ginger and heat for 4 to 5 minutes. Add diced lamb. Evenly brown for about 5 minutes. Add saffron to the kiwifruit pulp and pour over the lamb. Add enough beef stock so the liquid just covers the lamb. Bring to the boil and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes. Cover with lid and transfer to oven. Bake for 1 hour.

In a frying pan, melt butter on medium to high heat. Add the diced kiwifruit and cook until slightly caramelised. Remove kiwifruit and set aside. In the same frying pan, cook the couscous as per package instructions. Drain the chickpeas and add to the lamb, along with 3/4th of the cooked caramelised kiwifruit. Stir and bake for another 10 minutes.

To serve, layer the tagine over the couscous. Garnish with the remaining caramelised kiwifruit, chopped coriander and slivered almonds.

Fig And Cardamom Squares

Recipe developed by the Landmark Group as part of their Beat Diabetes Campaign: www.beatdiabetes.me

* This healthy dessert has just 39 calories per square

Makes 8 to 10 squares


200g dried figs

1 tsp clarified butter (ghee)

350ml reduced-fat milk

2 tsp cardamom powder, freshly ground


Soak the dried figs in some warm water for an hour and allow to soften. Once the figs are softened, blend them to a coarse paste using a food processor. Heat 2 tsp of clarified butter in a non-stick pan and add the figs. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the heat to low and pour in the milk slowly, to avoid splattering. Stir well to combine the milk and figs. Add the cardamom powder and allow to simmer for 10 minutes while stirring occasionally. Once the milk has reduced, the mixture will begin to leave the sides of the pan and form a ball. At this point, remove from the heat.

Line a tray with greaseproof paper and empty the mixture in the tray. Flatten it out and smooth the top. Allow it to cool and set for one hour before cutting into 2-inch squares. The squares will keep in a refrigerator for 8 to 10 days.

Beetroot and Raisin Cups

Recipe developed by the Landmark Group as part of their Beat Diabetes Campaign: www.beatdiabetes.me

* This healthy dessert has just 126 calories per serving.

Serves 4


240g (about 3 medium-sized) beetroots, peeled and grated

60g dates, finely chopped

200ml reduced-fat milk

1/4 tsp cardamom powder

30g raisins


Heat a medium-sized non-stick pan to medium heat and add the beetroot to it. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the dates and mix well. Continue cooking the mixture for a few minutes until the dates soften. Pour in the milk and allow it to simmer and reduce slowly. Season with cardamom powder. Add 25g raisins and let it cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the raisins swell up. Pour into a mould of your choice and allow it to set in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours. Once set, remove from the mould. Garnish with raisins and serve cold.