When I was growing up in Pakistan, almost the whole country observed Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting, repentance and charity. Restaurant specials, shorter workdays, and camaraderie made it easy to abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. And a personal reflection shared during this special time of year made iftar parties even more fun.
Before sunrise, Muslims eat suhoor, a breakfast that is nutritious enough to get you through the day. Then, once the last rays of the sun have disappeared, we enjoy iftar, or ‘breaking the fast’ – a festive, communal affair, during which certain special dishes take center stage, such as pakoras South Asian and Sri Lankan biryani. Dessert is also a wonderful reward for your dedication to the special month. In Pakistan, hot, crispy jalebis fill the plates; in Bengali homes, the mishti brings the fasters back to life before an evening of prayers or relaxation.
We’ve rounded up our favorite Ramadan recipes for suhoor and iftar, whether you’re fasting, hosting, or just looking to cook something special.
Farideh Sadeghin, former kitchen manager at Test, learned from her father how to make these simple grilled skewers, which he likes to serve with rice and shirazi salad. Get the recipe >
Chief Romy Gill credits his grandmother with the clever technique used to shape these samosas. Partially baking the wrappers makes the dough less absorbent and malleable, making them easier to fill without becoming gummy (and easier to make ahead). Get the recipe >
The recipe for these skewers, which can also be made with lamb, is adapted from that of Charmaine O’Brien Recipes from an urban village (The Hope Project, 2003). Get the recipe >
For this Mumbai street food snack from Raghavan Iyer, chunks of potato are dredged into a light batter made from gram flour and rice spiced with turmeric and chili powder. The potatoes are then fried until a golden crust forms and served with cilantro and tamarind chutneys. Spicy paste can also be used for other vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli florets, plantain slices and eggplant. Get the recipe >
A luxurious preparation of whole fish flavored with tangy tamarind and fragrant barberry, perfect for Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Find barberries at well-stocked Middle Eastern grocery stores or online. Get the recipe >
Tart sumac balances caramelized sweet onions in a dish of roast chicken and flatbread traditionally cooked in a wood-fired oven called a taboon. Get the recipe >
Phyllo dough layered with peanuts reveling in sweet syrup is an age-old dessert that now exists in many variations across the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean. Get the recipe >
For this Middle Eastern spiced stew, the cauliflower stalks are chopped and sautéed in mirepoix to add flavor, while the florets are grilled and added at the end of cooking to provide crunch and body. Get the recipe >
A rich and spicy stew garnished with bright coriander leaves, a citrus drizzle and thinly sliced hot peppers, nihari is the ultimate comfort food for home cook and Lahore native Zainab Shah, whose mother prepares this dish for her and her family. The dish’s name is derived from the Arabic word nahaar, or “day,” which makes sense given the long, slow cooking required to extract the rich marrow from the lamb bones. Get the recipe >
Eggplants are stuffed with a mixture of spiced lamb and rice, then simmered in a tomato sauce in a rustic cinnamon-scented dish from Isabelle, the mother of Lebanese author Fouad Kassab. During the fall olive harvest, she prepares them with new season olive oil from the family’s groves. Use smaller sized eggplants, such as Japanese or fairy tale eggplants, for this dish. (If you can’t find these varieties, zucchini can be substituted for eggplant.) Get the recipe >
This grilled chicken rubbed with fragrant spices was a favorite of former deputy editor Felicia Campbell when she was deployed to Iraq. Get the recipe >
Gulab jamun, which translates to “blooming fruit”, is a traditional dessert enjoyed throughout the Indian subcontinent. Usually served for parties, the syrupy spheres are traditionally flavored with rose water and saffron and are individually portioned, for easy sharing. Get the recipe >
Fenugreek, a dried aromatic herb, lends a distinct floral flavor to a hearty veal stew. Get the recipe >
These spicy ground lamb skewers are best cooked over the fire, but can work on an indoor grill pan or cast iron skillet. Aleppo chili and biber salçası, a spicy red paste made from sun-dried chili peppers and salt, add color and heat. Get the recipe >
Adapted from Ruweena Deen, mother-in-law of chef Nishad Jayawardena of restaurant Asylum, this is a special occasion meal in Sri Lanka, prepared in large quantities and suitable for a weekend family gathering or a break fasting for Eid at the end of Ramadan. Get the recipe >
Lamb shanks are braised for hours in a sumptuous honey, almond and raisin sauce in this centuries-old Moroccan dish served at Mansouria Restaurant. Get the recipe >
In Tamil-speaking households, a combination of donuts with sauce is called vadai pachadi. Served for weddings and religious holidays, these spiced donuts get their signature crunch from yellow split peas and are topped with a tangy, creamy yogurt and tomato sauce. Get the recipe >
In this recipe, the kataif, a phyllo pastry resembling a bird’s nest, is covered with cream cheese and drizzled with amber syrup. Get the recipe >
For this rich and spicy Iraqi breakfast dish, ground lamb is sautéed with onions, tomatoes and parsley, seasoned up to the neck with bahar asfar, yellow curry powder, then topped with eggs baked. Get the recipe >
A classic Persian herb-laden egg dish with a fragrant touch of rose petals. Get the recipe >
For the Arabs of the Levant, “this dish, more than any other, represents Ramadan,” writes chef Reem Assil. The recipe and the technique are just as important here: it’s about getting a good seal by keeping the pancakes moist before pinching them to close them. Get the recipe >