Luqaimat 'should be the national dish'

Salamah Ghudayer, of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Undersanding in Dubai, talks about her favourite dish and the challenge of fasting while pregnant.

Pregnant women are allowed to feed the poor instead of fasting, and make up the days they missed later.
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In a weekly series during Ramadan, James Brennan speaks to people about their food preparations for iftar. This year, Salamah Ghudayer talks about the additional challenge of fasting while pregnant. "Ramadan is usually more enjoyable than challenging for me," says Salamah Ghudayer, the cultural presenter at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in Dubai. "But this year has been very difficult, since I am pregnant and fasting. Pregnant women are allowed to feed the poor instead of fasting and make up the days they missed if they fear great harm to themselves or the baby, but most here try to fast. It is just extra exhausting.

"My husband has been to Umrah during this month and will also do itikaf for at least a few of the last days in Ramadan, where he secludes himself in the mosque to focus only on worship - which makes me proud of him. But being pregnant I have missed him more this Ramadan. Otherwise it is a wonderful time and I have been trying to help people who need it as much as I can." For Ghudayer, expecting a baby has added a new dimension to the holy month, but she says her daily routine during Ramadan has remained largely the same. "For me, iftar is either a very social time or very solitary. Sometimes I go to my in-laws. They have a chef who cooks, but they also order from restaurants in addition, and we all try to bring something as well. Sometimes I am with my family in Al Ain, and there the chef cooks most of the food and some of the women make things with the maid, such as mini-pizzas, fatayer or desserts. Otherwise it's me cooking for myself. I make whatever I have been wanting and always way more than I end up eating."

Whatever Ghudayer makes, one thing will always be on the iftar menu. "My favourite - and I think every Emirati will agree - is luqaimat," she reveals. "It should be the national dish, except it doesn't look amazing enough. They are just light pastry balls, deep fried, that are covered in date syrup. Some families sprinkle seeds on them. Otherwise, I am in love with my mother-in-law's broccoli soup, which this year I learnt to make. I am not a fan of soup, but this one I will start eating as a light meal even after Ramadan."

However Ghudayer chooses to break her fast, her thoughts are rarely far from the true relevance of the season. "As the days of Ramadan progress, the meaning deepens for me," she says. "The first week I am just so happy to drink juice as soon as the athan sounds, though it traditionally should be water. Yet as those first days pass, I am so thankful for having food and money to buy nice things for my home, when I see people living in really hard situations elsewhere and even here. Within the region I especially feel for the Bedouin, because I am so proud of them for maintaining the old way of life and one day they will know how to live when we have forgotten; how to stay cool, what herbs will cure us. But their life in these times is hard and I can't eat until I am sure the ones I know have plenty to eat that day."

Here is a recipe inspired by Ghudayer's version of luqaimat. To many, there's little question as to what the most moreish food is during Ramadan. Once you've started eating the little golden balls of fermented batter, it's difficult to stop. The word "luqaimat" means "small bites", but it's rather tempting to have an awful lot of them. They are usually eaten for dessert, sometimes with a local dish of sweet vermicelli noodles with omelette called balaleet.

Luqaimat 2.5 cups of flour 3 tablespoons of cornflour 2 cups warm water or milk 1 tablespoon of yeast ½ tablespoon of sugar 3 tablespoons of yoghurt Salt to taste Date syrup or dibs Vegetable oil for deep-frying Method Start by mixing the yeast and the sugar in a cup half full of lukewarm water. Leave it to one side for 30 minutes until the mixture begins to produce a thick froth. Meanwhile, sift the flour and cornflour into a large bowl, add the salt and mix with the yoghurt and the rest of the water or milk until you have a rich batter. The batter shouldn't be too thin or too thick. Once the desired consistency is achieved, cover the bowl and let the mixture stand for at least three to four hours. The mixture will continue to ferment, so mix gently once more to eliminate any bubbles that have formed, then heat the oil in a deep pan until very hot. Spoon small amounts of the batter mixture into the oil. The batter will form into little balls, which should be allowed to deep-fry until golden brown. Remove the balls from the oil and allow them to drain on a kitchen towel before serving them warm, drizzled with date syrup.