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Ramazan makes me nostalgic; the tastes and aromas of piping hot pakoras, tangy chaat and sticky sweet jalebis fill my senses. When I was a child, I would patiently wait for iftari time, in my mind elevating it to a moment of pure magic.

Even now, I find Ramazan incredibly exciting and I plan iftari menus with great detail. Iftari for me is not only the culmination of a day dedicated to discipline and self control, it is also symbolic of unity among people who break their fast at the exact same moment.

As a child I remember wondering: is iftari all over the world the same? Did everyone eat the same food? These questions would fill my head as I broke fast with my favourite spinach pakora dipped in imli chutney.

As an adult and a culinary professional I now know that the expanse of the universe of cookery is near infinite, and like the night sky dotted with starry beacons, it is filled with wonderful dishes and recipes. I love experimenting with new dishes in Ramazan; it keeps the magic alive and makes iftari more exciting.

Middle Eastern cuisine is my favourite. Simple, elegant and rich in flavours and textures; it is the perfect balance of herbs, spices and of course the triumvirate of garlic, olive oil and lemon.

Falafel – the Middle Eastern favourite – made from chickpeas blended with tahini, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon and then deep fried is almost like a pakora. However, the flavours are a revelation to the taste buds: coriander, cumin and a dash of red chilli. This blend of spices has me enamoured.

Middle Eastern cuisine also offers a variety of dips, spreads and salads such as baba ghanoush and moutabbel; served with falafel, bread, olives and dates these can add an interesting twist to iftari. So this Ramazan, try something new and spread the magic created by good food.

— Poppy Agha
The writer is a celebrity chef and runs a culinary institute.

First published in the Adbuzzzz Section of the DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on August 14, 2011.