x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

'I love to have my table full of food'

All this month, we speak to people about their iftar preparations. Today, Aman Kashigi reveals her love for all things fried and shares her recipe for dahi vada.

Amna Khaishgi makes a traditional Indian bread called chapatti to go along with a chicken curry she is cooking for iftar in her home in Dubai.
Amna Khaishgi makes a traditional Indian bread called chapatti to go along with a chicken curry she is cooking for iftar in her home in Dubai.

In a weekly series during Ramadan, James Brennan speaks to people about their food preparations for iftar. Today, Amna Khaishgi reveals her love for all things fried and shares her recipe for dahi vada. "Fasting can sometimes be quite tough, especially for people from the Asian region because we love to drink a lot of tea during the day," Amna Khaishgi, a freelance documentary producer from Pakistan, says as she talks about her routine for the holy month of Ramadan.

"There are lots of things you don't do normally that you can do during Ramadan. Particularly in Dubai, you can go out at night, have fun, meet people and invite friends for iftar, so it is kind of a festive season," she says. Preparing meals for iftar at home has its challenges. "By then I'm starving and I don't want to go in the kitchen." But during our conversation, her enthusiasm for the season shines through. For Khaishgi, Ramadan and the ritual of iftar is rich with spiritual and social significance.

"On the religious side, you're fasting the whole day," she explains. "Being a Muslim, when you're eating, then you realise that God has given you the food. We don't tend to realise that during normal times, but when you're fasting you realise it more. It's about being thankful to God. But socially, it's kind of a meeting ground. We invite relatives, friends and we cook special foods that we wouldn't eat during normal days."

Like many Muslim women, her daily routine undergoes something of a transformation during Ramadan. "I will start making food for iftar around two or three hours before. These days people say you shouldn't have so much food during iftar, you should only have little things to break your fast. But I'm a typical and traditional Muslim and I love to have my table full of food. That means dates, fried stuff, cold things, fruit, some spicy things. When I am occupied with things, we'll get takeaways from restaurants. For working people it's a practical option." 

Khaishgi says one of the challenges of cooking iftar food is that while she is still fasting, it's impossible to taste her own food, "so it's down to luck." "I break my fast with dates - it's traditional, it's compulsory and it's healthy. I'd take dates and a glass of milk and then we'll pray and then eat fried stuff like potato and pakoras. We like channa, samosas and we like dahi vada - it's like a pakora with curd. We'll also have a fruit salad. That's compulsory in our house."

Here is Khaishgi's recipe for dahi vada, the classic north Indian chaat, or street food, that often features as a popular iftar food during Ramadan. The savoury deep-fried urad dal dumplings are slathered in a curd or yoghurt sauce, which can be sprinkled with a range of spices and herbs to add a variety of flavours to the dish. They are traditionally served cold and can be paired with a sweet tamarind chutney, but mango, onion or date chutney can also be used for variety.

Dahi vada Two cups of urad dal (or black gram lentils) A handful of chopped green chillis Four inches of ginger root, finely chopped Cooking oil for frying 4 cups of curd or dahi yoghurt 1 cup of milk ½tsp roasted cumin powder ½tsp red chilli powder Sprinkling of chaat powder Handful of chopped coriander Salt to taste Tamarind chutney Method Wash the urad dal, soak for three hours and grind to a paste with a small splash of water (not too much) if necessary. Add the finely chopped ginger, green chilli and salt to the paste. Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer. Take some urad dal paste and make into a flattened ball (or vada) about the size of a doughnut. Fry the vadas in medium hot oil, then increase the temperature to high heat at the end of frying until the vadas turn golden brown.

Remove the vadas and place them in a bowl of lukewarm water for 30 seconds, then drain making sure as much water as possible is removed. Take the curd or dahi yoghurt and beat to a froth leaving no lumps. Add the milk, the red chilli powder, cumin and a pinch of salt to the curd. Place the vadas in a flat serving vessel and pour the curd mixture evenly over them. Place in the fridge before serving sprinkled with chaat powder and chopped coriander.