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How to Host an Iftar Dinner

Here’s what you need to know if you are inviting friends who are observing Ramadan traditions.

We recently had the honor of hosting an iftar dinner. This was a gathering of friends with some connection to the Middle East, but not everyone was Muslim or observant. Still, Ramadan is a time to gather and be together, and we wanted to be part of it. To pull it off, I had some research to do. I had never attended an iftar dinner, much less hosted one. So I asked around, and I wanted to share what I learned…

Fasting during Ramadan

For many observant Muslims, fasting during the month of Ramadan is a way to deepen one’s faith. Also, feeling hungry is a way to empathize with those less fortunate. The practice is to fast during daylight hours, and to break fast at sunset, with prayer and a meal called “iftar.”  

Hosting an iftar? Here’s what to expect

  • Check the schedule for sunset and ask guests to arrive around that time. The day of our dinner, sunset was scheduled for 7:48 p.m., so we sent the invite for quarter to eight. (Most everyone arrived promptly.)
  • Some guests may wish to pray in a private space. It’s a good idea to have blankets handy, as prayer is done on the floor. Of course this is a private decision, and out of our group of nearly 20 people, one guest asked to be shown to a quiet spot to pray.
  • The meal traditionally starts by eating a single date. We set out a plate of pitted dates (alternatively, have a bowl handy for the pits) and some roasted nuts. I was curious…would the host pass the dates as you might pass glasses for a toast? No, I learned. It’s customary to have the dates available, but not necessarily to serve or pass them around. Also, my instinct was to go fancy and dip dates in chocolate and/or stuff them, but I was advised to keep it simple.  
  • Out of respect for those who are observant, alcohol is typically not served.
  • The break-fast meal is typically protein heavy and filling. Aside from that, what I learned is that there are no specific or required foods, but as with any holiday tradition, families likely have special foods and regional specialties abound. We took creative license with our menu…

Our Iftar Menu

We set out a buffet and had everything ready upon our guests’ arrival. The dishes we chose work well slightly warm or at room temperature. 

  • Chicken Marbella from Silver Palate – This dish has prunes, olives, capers and vinegar…plus brown sugar. It sounds odd but is a flavorful marinade and great to feed a crowd. We marinated the chicken the day prior and baked it (hands off) the day of. Drums work well for a buffet.
  • Flank Steak with Green Sauce from Amanda Hesser @Food52 – We made the sauce the day prior, and the steak cooks quickly.
  • Mercimek Kofte from @giverecipe (we made it in a try) – This is a beautiful red lentil dish with Turkish spices and bulgar wheat. It’s a great, filling plant-based protein option and can be made in advance.
  • Celebration Rice with Saffron from @Ottolenghi was a big hit and is super fragrant and colorful.
  • Basterma – Seasoned cured beef.
  • Green salad – I went simple with the salad – red leaf lettuce, romaine, shaved fennel, and dried cherries with a rice-wine vinaigrette. Predictably, the question I received after the event was, “What was in the salad?” Everyone loves a freshly made dressing! 
  • Pettole – This southern Italian fried dough recipe is my family’s Christmas Eve treat. I thought it would be nice to share a holiday favorite of mine along with the iftar menu. After all, sharing family recipes is a chance to connect, which is what dinner parties are all about.
  • For dessert, we made my favorite chocolate cake from Orangette blog and Halweit El Jibn with a fragrant rose-water syrup. Friends brought more sweets.
  • As I mentioned, the drinks were all non-alcoholic. We made an apricot drink called Amar Deen and offered various bubbly waters. I like to have a big pitcher or jug of water at all parties, and I kept an eye on it to ensure we did not run low. Fasting also means no water, so it’s important to have plenty drinks available after sunset.

Happy hosting!