Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1348, (8 - 14 June 2017)
Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Issue 1348, (8 - 14 June 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Thinking like a chef

Celebrity chef Mahmoud Attia reveals his secrets for wonderful Iftar parties this Ramadan without blowing your budget to Ghada Abdel-Kader

Chef Mahmoud Attia
Chef Mahmoud Attia

Ramadan is a time for gathering family, relatives, friends and colleagues around wonderful Iftar meals. However, nothing is cheap these days, and food prices can be sky high. “Don’t break the fast with a feast,” advises Mahmoud Attia, a celebrity chef in Egyptian cuisine. “Usually in Ramadan people do not feel like eating too much.”

Attia’s TV programme Sahl wa Basit (Easy and Simple) has large audiences, and he himself has been working as a TV chef for 12 years. He believes that soup is a perfect starter for Iftar, especially as the fast involves long periods without food. “You can prepare two or three different types of soup, including lentil, vegetable, tomato, pea, carrot, vermicelli and birds’ tongue (lisan asfour),” Attia said.

“With just a few ingredients, you can prepare delicious and elegant dishes for appetisers like wrapped, baked and fried pastries, chicken fingers, mini pizzas, homemade tortilla bread and sambousek dough stuffed with fillings of your choice.”

For the main course, Attia prefers to buy a kilogram of baladi (local) minced meat that has a fresh, firm and velvety appearance. Although the price may be higher than imported or frozen meat, it is much better, he says. He believes that cheap, easy and delectable recipes can then be made from this by adding simple ingredients.

“It can be made in large quantities for different dishes. Recipes taste awesome and have a unique flavour, like rice kofta, camel kofta, chicken fillets, fajitas, chicken pané, and recipes including grilled, baked or roasted chicken instead of using turkey, duck, pigeon or goose,” Attia said.

Moreover, people do not eat many vegetables in Ramadan, or at least not as many as they should. One vegetable dish that can go down well is potatoes with tomato sauce. Egyptian mousakka (aubergine slices stuffed with ground minced meat and sprinkled with raisins immersed in tomato sauce and baked) is another favourite. Stuffed vegetables with rice like grape leaves, cabbage leaves, red, yellow and green peppers, aubergines and courgettes are also good.

For salads, two or three different dishes can be enough for an Iftar meal and can be prepared cheaply. “You can make a wide variety of dishes, including green salads, coleslaw, grilled or roasted aubergine salads, mayonnaise salads from Turkish cuisine and yoghurt salad,” Attia recommends.

For desserts, there is a wide variety of dishes that can also be prepared cheaply, including basbousa (a dessert made of semolina soaked in sugar syrup), ice cream, Asabea Zeinab (Zeinab’s fingers) and lokmat al-kadhi (fried doughy balls with a sugar syrup coating).

“You only need to be smart and think in a creative way to turn your leftover meals from an Iftar banquet into something tasty and new,” Attia adds.

Leftovers of cooked chicken, lamb, beef or any tender cut of veal from Iftar parties can be reused to make new dishes. Homemade meat or chicken shawarma with saj bread (round bread baked on a domed or convex metal griddle) is another favourite.

For a successful Iftar party, first count how many guests you will invite plus family members. Second, decide how much you want to spend. Third, create a shopping list of what you need. You can also keep an eye on any sales or promotions at your local supermarket, and make sure you compare prices before you do the shopping for the event. Fourth, start a few days before the Iftar and include everything in your grocery shopping at once.

Chef Attia shares his mouth-watering Iftar recipes with Al-Ahram Weekly readers


Escalope veal cordon bleu

1kg veal (tender veal cuts) hammered into thin sheets
Salt and black pepper to taste
Pinch of nutmeg
200 gm cheddar cheese slices
200 gm smoked chicken luncheon breast instead of turkey
200 gm flour
4 beaten eggs
400 gm breadcrumbs
Oil for frying
4 tbsp butter
Sprinkle each veal steak on both sides with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Wrap each with a small piece of cheese then a layer of smoked chicken, slowly rolling it up and pressing firmly with toothpicks. Dip into the flour and shake lightly to remove any excess. Put the escalope into the egg and transfer it to the breadcrumbs. In a frying pan, melt the butter with the oil over a medium heat until bubbling. Fry the veal escalope for a few minutes on each side until it has a nice golden colour and is crisp.


Balah Al-Sham (Sweet fried pastries)

200 ml water
50 gm oil
250 gm flour
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp sugar
1tbsp starch
3 eggs
For the sugar syrup:
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 tbsp glucose sugar
Pinch of lemon salt
Oil for frying

Place the water, sugar and oil in a pan on medium heat until it boils. Mix the flour, starch and salt well. Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes. In the meantime, combine sugar, water and lemon juice together in a saucepan on the stove until all the components are dissolved. Add the beaten egg to the dough gradually and use a wooden spoon to mix the dough. Place the dough in a pastry bag with a star-shaped tip. Press on the pastry bag and cut the dough with a knife. Use a deep amount of oil in a frying pan on a warm or low heat and cook the dough shapes for a few minutes. Repeat the previous steps, making sure you finish all your dough. Remove the pastries with a slotted spoon. Fry the pastries again in another pan on a high heat until they have doubled in size and have a nice golden colour. Drain on kitchen paper. Dip the warm pastries into the syrup for a few minutes and then take them off. Leave to cool. Stuff with whipped cream and nuts before serving.

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