x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

'At iftar we all eat together and enjoy it'

In a weekly series during Ramadan, James Brennan speaks to people about their food preparations for iftar. Today, Uzman Salman of Dubai describes what makes iftar special for her and her family.

Chana Chaat consisting of red lentils, green and red chillies, onions and tomatoes.
Chana Chaat consisting of red lentils, green and red chillies, onions and tomatoes.

"For me iftar is not only about food," says Uzman Salman about breaking the fast during Ramadan. "It's the feeling of iftar, where people gather around the table at once to eat," the Pakistani mother of three continues.

"During Ramadan people make the effort to be around the table, so there's a nice feel to it when everybody is together breaking their fast," she says. "These days everybody is so busy, we hardly have time to sit together all at once at the table to have dinner. At iftar, for 30 days, my family are together and we all eat together and enjoy it." For the Salmans, Ramadan is an important time for all the family. "I have three children and everyone in the family fasts," she explains. "My youngest son is 10 years old, and he is getting into the habit of fasting. He won't fast the whole of Ramadan, he'll do maybe 15 fasts, but he's starting at a young age so that he can get used to the idea.

"Obviously it's difficult when they go to school and they have to fast, but they usually don't complain. They get tired and then they go to sleep. "But it's not too difficult for them. And for me, maybe I get tired, but not hungry or thirsty. You get used to it, and I think you get more into the habit as you get older. "When I was younger in Pakistan our fasts were during summer, so the days were very long," she recalls. "The fast seemed very long, and an hour before iftar I used to smell the food that my mother was preparing in the kitchen. Then all the table would be laid out. We would always invite a lot of people for iftar dinner. It was really nice, we would all gather around the table and break our fast with dates. Nice memories."

These days, Salman is the one who cooks for the family, and since moving to Dubai her iftar routine has stayed largely unchanged. "A couple of hours before iftar I start cooking," she says. "We'll usually have some snacks for iftar, and after praying we'll have our dinner. Every day we usually have a bowl of fruit salad. And we'll have something with protein, a meat dish like kebabs, chicken or beef. We'll have something fried, like samosas or pakoras or something like that.

"My favourite iftar dish is chana chaat, which is a kind of chickpea salad with spices. There are white and black chickpeas, and people don't usually use the black chickpeas, but I do. You can eat it at room temperature, but I like it hot. So it's very nice and not unhealthy, because it only has one or two teaspoons of vegetable oil." Here is a recipe inspired by Salman's version of chana chaat. One of the great subcontinental street foods,it has also become an iftar favourite because it is light, refreshing, healthy and full of essential nutrients.

As with all Indian and Pakistani street foods, there are hundreds of variations on the recipe. Chickpeas are the main ingredient, and this recipe uses black chickpeas (kala chana, which are in fact brown in colour), but white chickpeas can also be used, or you can combine the two. This is essentially a salad, which can be served warm or cold, and like all salads you can add ingredients according to your particular preference. Sliced paneer cheese or boiled potatoes can be added at the frying stage.

Chana chaat 2 cups of black chana or chickpeas 1 onion, finely chopped 1 large tomato, diced 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds 2 teaspoons of coriander, finely chopped 2 green chillies, chopped 1-inch square block of tamarind pulp Juice of 1 lemon 1-2 teaspoons of vegetable oil 1-2 teaspoons of chaat masala Pinch of salt and black pepper to taste Method Soak the chickpeas overnight. Boil them in lightly salted water until cooked, then drain the chickpeas and set to one side.

Soak the tamarind pulp in boiling hot water for about an hour and mash it through a sieve, retaining the juice. Heat the oil in the pan and fry the chickpeas with the cumin seeds, chopped green chillies and one or two tablespoons of the tamarind juice. Fry lightly for a few minutes before removing from the frying pan and transferring to a bowl with the chopped onion, tomato and coriander. Sprinkle on the chaat masala and lemon juice and add a pinch of salt and black pepper to season. Serve with roasted papads or chapatis.