by Soha Darwish Food Writer & Critic – Menu Consultant Diploma in Food Journalism – London, UK
It’s Ramadan 2020 Issue and Men’s Issue at the same time, of course I know better than to ask men to take over the Iftar service – God forbid! But I thought of something else that will strongly relate to them and hopefully make them appreciate our domestic efforts a bit more.
It entails saving a bit of money – well not really a bit -as by nowadays standards if you attempt to host an Iftar gathering at one of the trendy fine dining venues, I’ve actually managed to save them a fortune!
So, my Iftar theme for this special Ramadan is a fine dining menu curated at your home kitchen. You will see that it’s quite simple to execute, all you need is to just invest in the ingredients which maybe a bit pricier than your regular grocery shopping list, nevertheless you would still be saving a massive amount of money.
Also, I see it as a special way to treat your guests by skewing away from the customary dishes served to them day in and day out throughout the holy month; a win-win situation for everyone!
Roasted Beetroot Soup with crème fraiche
Starters & Salad
Beef Carpaccio with parmesan shavings, capers & arugula
Chestnut & Brie Salad preserved chestnuts – Brie cheese – Walnuts –Rucola leaves with Balsamic vinaigrette
Chicken Ballotine stuffed with sundried tomatoes, spinach & buffalo mozzarella
Baklava Mille-Feuille with pistachio cream
1) Roasted Beetroot Soup: Serves 6
Soup plays an important role on our Iftar table; I always like it to be light and nutritious. This soup ticks all the boxes, a light superfood soup with a vibrant beautiful colour that promises a cheerful and memorable dining experience ahead!
- Shopping Basket: 4 medium beets – 1 large onion, chopped – 1 large carrot, chopped – 1 celery stalk, chopped – 2 garlic cloves – 3 tbsp vegetable oil – 1 beef/vegetable stock cube – 150ml single cream – 2 tomatoes – 2 tbsp sour cream (crème fraiche) – handful of chives, finely chopped – salt & black pepper.
- Wrap the beets in foil paper and roast in oven until soft; it can take up to 1 hour. Also, cut tomatoes in quarters, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with chopped garlic and roast in oven too. When beets are cooked, peel and cut into chunks.
- In a large pot, sauté the onions then add all roasted vegetables plus the carrots and celery. Cover with stock (stock cube dissolved in about 3 cups of kettle water), then simmer until carrots are soft.
- Blend all ingredients until smooth texture, season and add the cream; bring to the boil. Let it cool down until warm then garnish with a dollop of sour cream and chives when served.
2) Beef Carpaccio: Serves 6
I know that it can be a bit unsettling when you attempt making such a delicate raw dish by yourself. But you’ll just see that it’s an easy and straightforward process -at least you can relax about its hygiene when prepared!
- Shopping Basket: 500g beef fillet – 3 tbsp olive oil or truffle oil – 50g Dijon mustard – 2 garlic clove – ½ cup parmesan shavings – ½ tsp thyme – 50g rocket/arugula leaves – 1 tbsp capers – sea salt & coarse black pepper.
1. Whisk the oil, Dijon mustard, thyme and garlic until well blended. Season with salt and pepper, then smother the beef fillet with this mixture.
2. Wrap the beef fillet tightly in cling film, then put in fridge for about 20 mins. Unwrap the beef and sear quickly in a hot pan with a bit of olive oil.
3. Wrap again in cling film and freeze for about an hour, this will help you in slicing the beef.
4. Remove cling film and thinly slice the beef with a very sharp fillet knife. Lay the beef slices between 2 plastic sheets and flatten them out with a rolling pin. Keep in fridge until ready to use.
5. When serving, garnish with rocket leaves, parmesan and capers (on the top). Drizzle with olive oil or truffle oil.
3) Saffron Risotto: Serves 6
I love colourful food and this risotto does it for me, it simply shines up your table with its glorious yellow colour. Never underestimate the power of saffron; it’s one of those magical ingredients that transform any dish, let alone a heartthrob like risotto – what a heavenly combination!
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped – 5 tbsp butter – 2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice – 6 cups of homemade chicken broth or chicken stock – 1 tsp saffron threads – 1 cup parmesan, grated – salt & black pepper.
- in the parmesan and remaining butter, season then remove from heat – serve immediately.
4) Chicken Ballotine: Serves 6
This is a sophisticated chicken dish and it is not as complicated to make as it looks! I played along with the ingredients and came up with a fusion between Chicken Saltimbocca and the classic Ballotine. It really surpassed my expectations – glamorous and delicious!
- Shopping Basket: 4 large chicken breasts, boneless – 3 tbsp olive oil – 2 garlic cloves, minced – 1 cup chicken stock – 1 tbsp butter – 1 tbsp flour – 400g fresh baby spinach leaves – 2 fresh buffalo mozzarella balls, hand torn – 100g sundried tomatoes, finely chopped – salt & black pepper.
1. Lay the chicken breasts and slit them open like an open book, flatten them lightly with a rolling pin then season with salt & pepper.
2. Sauté the spinach with garlic in 1 tbsp of olive oil until it becomes wilted then add the sundried tomatoes. Season lightly, stir-fry for another 1 min and remove from heat. Let it cool down.
3. When the spinach cools down, add in the torn mozzarella. Lay 1-2 tbsp of the spinach & mozzarella mix on each flattened chicken breast. Roll it up enclosing the filling, either by using edible thread. Keep in fridge for at least one hour.
4. In a large hot pan drizzled with the remaining olive oil, sear the rolled chicken breasts until light brown. Arrange them in an oven dish.
5. Meanwhile, in the same pan chicken was seared, sauté 1 tbsp of flour with 1 tbsp of butter, then gradually add 1 cup of chicken stock and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to avoid lumping. Let in simmer and add in 1 small tsp of lemon juice then remove from heat.
6. Drizzle the sauce over the seared chicken rolls in the oven dish, cover with foil and bake for 20 to 30 mins at 180 . Remove thread and serve warm – Enjoy!
5) Baklava Mille-Feuille with pistachio cream: Serves 6
An elegant way to present a Middle Eastern staple dessert with an original twist, and the best thing that it’s not too sweet – the pistachio cream really tones it down.
- Pastry Shopping Basket: 6 sheets of filo pastry, thawed – ¾ cup of butter, melted – 1 cup granulated sugar.
- Pistachio Cream Shopping Basket: 1 cup icing sugar – 2 cups roasted pistachio – 150g mascarpone cheese – 1 ½ cup double cream – ½ cup sugar syrup & 1 tsp vanilla extract.
1. On 3 rectangular baking trays lined with parchment paper, lay one sheet of filo pastry, brushed generously with butter on both sides and sprinkled with granulated sugar. Lay another filo sheet and again brush with butter. Repeat this step in the other 2 trays.
2. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, start cutting the layered sheets into about (15 cm X 8 cm) rectangles, while the other trays are covered with a damp towel (to stop the pastry from drying).
3. Bake in a preheated oven at 180 ̊ for about 15 to 20 mins until golden crispy. Leave to cool down completely in room temp.
4. Meanwhile, in a good food processor grind the roasted pistachios until greasy texture, then add the sugar syrup; blitz them all.
5. In a large bowl, whip the cream and mascarpone cheese while gradually adding the icing sugar and vanilla; until stiff peaks. Add in the pistachio paste, whip altogether and keep in fridge for at least 3 hours.
6. Assemble the mille-feuille, by piping the chilled pistachio cream onto one crispy rectangle, lay another pastry rectangle and repeat. So that, you end up with 3 pastry layers and 2 cream layers. Sprinkle with icing sugar or crushed pistachios. Tuck in!