Ramadan Mubarak to all our readers!
August 11, 2010 – September 9th, 2010
I started fasting for Ramadan when I was eleven or twelve years old. I’d have to do a fact check on the exact age with my mom since she remembers it better than I do. The first few days were the hardest. It would get easier along the way, until the week or so after Ramadan when every time I ate during the day I felt like I was making a mistake or doing something wrong. It’s interesting how a month can make or break a habit.
We fast from sunrise to sunset each day during Ramadan. It is especially challenging during the summer months when the days are longer and the weather is hot. The highlight of the day is definitely after the call for maghrib salat (prayer after sunset) when it’s time to break the fast.
Muslims host iftar parties for relatives, friends, and/or the community to share in the breaking of fast together. Breaking fast with someone is considered a blessing even if you aren’t fasting. It is also a good deed to feed those who are fasting during the month of Ramadan. And God knows we can all use those extra brownie points.
This year I hosted my second ever iftar party. Last year, I had a dozen or so guests and I was just starting out learning to cook. This year I have some experience under my belt and of course, the rest is left to God to make my food delicious or not. I hosted 33 guests on the 14th of August which is also Pakistan Independence Day, so obviously it was themed accordingly!
I set the menu as follows:
Keema samosas (shaped like dumplings)
Vegetable Pakoras – Eggplant and Zucchini
Pineapple cupcakes with cream cheese icing
Roofza with milk
Roofza with water
It is traditional in my culture to have an iftari which is more snacks based (see appetizers list) and follow it with a dinner later in the evening. This was the largest dinner party I have thrown. It was definitely a lot of work to cook for that many guests. Of course, I had my mom on video chat and on the phone guiding me, but it also took a lot of planning and coordinated execution.
First I thought of my theme. I am a proud Pakistani American and saw the opportunity to combine the celebration of Ramadan iftar with the celebration of Pakistani Independence day – 8.14.10. That set my color scheme: Green. I sent out a custom evite to all my guests 6 weeks in advance. Reserving the first weekend in Ramadan is very difficult because there will be many competing parties. I bought green glasses, white silverware and of course it helps that proud Pakistanis have lots of souvenirs, flags and symbols to scatter around the house. I got my holiday lights out and put them up, I used a giant Pakistani flag as a table cover, put out village souvenirs near the cupcakes at first and then near the drinks when we needed the freezer.
I rearranged all the furniture in the house to comfortably seat guests. I went for an open floor plan, removed all tables from the center, and created a large oval. I threw floor cushions in various spaces so people could sit on the carpet with comfort. I put small tables near chairs so people could rest their glasses. I developed an icebreaker so people would be forced to be creative, come out of their comfort zone and engage with the wider crowd.
Then I thought about my menu for about 10 days. I finally settled on the above mentioned menu. I bought green food coloring for my cupcakes as well as green icing to decorate them. I asked everyone to either wear green or South Asian clothes. My guest-list consisted of mixed races and faiths so it was great to have people join in the theme even when they were not Pakistani or Muslim.
My biggest concern was whether the quantity of food would be enough. At least a dozen of the guests were not fasting. The rest were so they had neither drank or eaten anything all day. Having many items is actually a plus because everyone will take a little of everything and then the dish can go a long way. I knew the main dish was the biryani.
I had to make as much of that as I could. Knowing my nature and tendencies to do things big, I have pots that will cook large quantities. I made 8 cups of uncooked basmati rice for the party. I began by creating the chicken masala for the biryani. I then boiled my rice with salt, bay leaves and black cardamom. Once the rice had boiled I strained it and divided it into two halves. I layered one half of the rice on the bottom of the large pot and put in all of the chicken masala on top, then I layered the rest of the rice on top. I added the yellow food coloring and put the entire pot in the oven at 180⁰F to keep warm until the guests arrived two hours later.
I served all the appetizers first. I fried the samosas and pakoras right before the breaking of the fast so they would be fresh and hot. In the meantime, I kept all the entrees warm. Fifteen minutes after everyone had a chance to eat the appetizers I reviewed the table, removed what was finished and set up the entrees.
After dinner, I facilitated the ice breaker, served dessert and chai.
All in all it was really memorable for me and I am glad I did it. I definitely think it was crazy to cook for so many people, but now that I have this under my belt it won’t be as overwhelming the next time around.
Posted in: Food Culture | Tags: Aloo samosas, Breaking fast Ramadan, Chaana chaat, Chicken Jalfrezie, iftar parties, Iftari Appetizers, Iftari biryani, Iftari dish, Iftari food, Iftari snacks, Kajoor, Keema samosas, Lamb Korma, maghrib salat iftar, Pakistani chicken biryani, Pakistani food, Pineapple cupcakes, Ramadan Iftar food, Roofza, Roofza with milk, Rooh Afza, Zucchini Pakora