A Busy Cook’s Guide to Eating Well During Ramadan

I’m a confident cook and I’ve been writing about food for years, but navigating what I’m going to eat during Ramadan hasn’t always been easy for me. In Bangladesh, where I grew up, Ramadan was a family affair. Missing suhoor wasn’t an option because my parents made sure my brothers and I woke up to eat. We were cranky, but we were fed. For iftar, every inch of our dining table was covered with more food than sense: a giant bowl of kala channa, a platter of crisp, syrupy jalebi, and more variations of kabobs I can’t even name.

But as a busy Muslim millennial living in the US, I’ve spent many Ramadans stuck in a loop of poor planning that led to haphazardly put together iftars and suhoors, making my month of fasting difficult and unfulfilling. No matter how intentional I tried to be, I just couldn’t crack the code for creating a balanced Ramadan meal plan. I was sleeping through suhoor, not eating enough vegetables, and certainly not drinking enough water. The elaborate iftars I ate growing up were replaced by a random assortment of whatever food I had in my fridge. Starving and depleted, I inhaled all the food in one sitting, which only made me feel more tired and groggy after a day of fasting.

As it turns out, these struggles are quite common amongst busy Muslims today, according to Nazima Qureshi, a Toronto-based registered dietitian. Qureshi and her husband, Belal Hafeez, a personal trainer, run The Healthy Muslims, a nutrition consulting service that provides culturally relevant health and wellness coaching to Muslims across the US and Canada. Qureshi says that many of their clients face struggles similar to the ones I’ve described. People are adapting their eating patterns (and may feel some changes in energy levels) during Ramadan, Qureshi explains, “but you still have to continue on with your day-to-day obligations” in work and life. So eating in a nutritious way, let alone planning ahead for what to eat for iftar and suhoor, often falls by the wayside.

I asked Qureshi for her advice to help anyone who is navigating the challenges of Ramadan meal planning, then used her expert tips to help curate a game plan for cooking and eating mindfully this month. It includes delicious recipes from across Epicurious and a few from my favorite cookbook authors, Asma Khan and Nadiya Hussain. So read along, save these recipes on the Epi app, and don’t forget to hydrate!

What to eat for suhoor

Note to self: Tempting as it may be, scarfing down a bowl of cereal five minutes before suhoor ends isn’t the most sustainable approach to fasting. Qureshi recommends eating things that will provide a slow release of energy throughout the day: ideally a combo of complex carbs like oatmeal or sweet potatoes, some source of protein, and some vegetables for fiber. But I, for one, don’t have the wherewithal to come up with a balanced meal idea at 3 a.m., so the name of the game is planning ahead. Start with these seven options so you’re prepared with delicious and filling dishes in the freezer or fridge, ready for a quick reheat.

Mix-and-match overnight oats

<h1 class="title">NRR Overnight Oats Inset 2</h1><cite class="credit">Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Food Styling by Anna Stockwell</cite>

NRR Overnight Oats Inset 2

Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Food Styling by Anna Stockwell

This foolproof formula for overnight oats is easy to memorize, highly customizable, and ideal for those who want the bed-to-food route to be as short as possible. You simply soak one part oats, plus two parts milk, and a quarter part seeds in a mason jar. Let the ingredients mingle while you sleep and wake up to a hearty, already-ready meal that’ll keep you nourished throughout a day of fasting. Get the details here →

A brilliant spin on paratha

<cite class="credit">Photo by Chris Terry</cite>
Photo by Chris Terry

Nadiya Hussain combined two of my favorite things in one dish with her Pizza Parathas. These are such a fun riff on a classic that acts like a meal on its own. Freeze them uncooked, layered with parchment paper in between each so they don’t stick. As Nadiya suggests, you can dip them in a dip of your choice. Or you can try them my way: fold one in half with cheese in between, then cook until melted to Frankenstein a pizza paratha quesadilla situation. Get the recipe →

Easy, flavorful shredded chicken

<cite class="credit">Photo by Sarah Leung and Kaitlin Leung</cite>
Photo by Sarah Leung and Kaitlin Leung

This protein-rich dish from The Woks of Life is equally light and satisfying. It has a ton of fresh herbs that pair with tangy black vinegar to brighten the mixture of chicken, ginger, and scallion. Make this ahead and eat for suhoor along with some rice, which I recommend making with the leftover poaching liquid from the chicken. Get the recipe

Trifle, but make it breakfast

<h1 class="title">Breakfast Trifle-RECIPE.jpg</h1><cite class="credit">Photo by Chris Terry</cite>

Breakfast Trifle-RECIPE.jpg

Photo by Chris Terry

If you absolutely need to eat something sweet for every meal, this one’s for you. Nadiya Hussain’s Breakfast Trifle brings together pretty much all essential food groups into one giant bowl. Her genius use of frozen berries, leftover bread, and hearty elements like granola, yogurt, and chia seeds make this trifle ideal for suhoor. It is worth noting that the brioche layer can get a little soggy over time, so if you’re not into that texture, leave the bread out entirely or add it as an additional layer right before eating. Or, you can do what I do and prepare the layering elements separately, then assemble individual portions once it’s time to eat. Get the recipe

Eggs in a sweet potato boat

<cite class="credit">Photo by Eric Wolfinger</cite>
Photo by Eric Wolfinger

The funny thing about this recipe is that it’s inspired by a dish at Erewhon, an LA-based natural foods store that I deeply dislike. But this dish is worth setting aside those grievances, at least for now. Both the herb relish and the sweet potatoes can be made in advance. So all you need to do when you wake up for suhoor is just crack an egg on top and bake until it’s set to your liking. The herby relish with raisins and capers nicely contrasts the richness of the sweet potato and egg. Get the recipe

Chapatis, ready to reheat

<cite class="credit">Photo by Laura Edwards</cite>
Photo by Laura Edwards

These simple chapatis go well with any dish that calls for sopping up every bit of the sauce. This recipe is excellent for suhoor if you’re in need of a quick accompaniment for leftover curries or stews. The move here is to have a bunch in the fridge, par-cooked on low-medium heat and wrapped in a cloth, ready for when it’s time to reheat and eat. Get the recipe


<cite class="credit">Photo by Chris Terry</cite>
Photo by Chris Terry

This cozy, hearty Toad-in-a-Hole from Nadiya Hussain is a complete breakfast in one. It’s sort of like a savory loaded pancake, warmly spiced and full of mushrooms and chicken- or vegetable-based sausages. I like to add some green stuff like broccolini or peas. You can make this in advance or freeze the leftovers wrapped in parchment paper and foil. Simply reheat from frozen at 375 degrees on a baking sheet lined with foil. Get the recipe

What to eat to break your fast

One of the most helpful tips I took away from my conversation with Qureshi is her advice to break up iftar into two parts. After a long day of fasting, it can be very easy to eat too much too fast, which she says is all too common. “If you’re eating really quickly, your body isn’t able to register that it’s full,” she explains, “so a lot of people end up overeating to the point they can’t move.” Instead of energizing you, the meal ends up making you feel more tired and groggy.

To combat this, Qureshi recommends starting off with a big glass of water and a little something that will give your body a boost of natural sugars. “This signals to your body that you’re not in starvation mode,” she says, allowing you to slow down and be mindful, which is what Ramadan is about. Inspired by Qureshi’s advice, I picked out four recipes for this first bite after the fast ends. Enjoy these right at sunset, drink some more water, and then take a few minutes to prepare the rest of your iftar.

The ideal date-and-nut bite

<h1 class="title">Date Pistachio Fudge Balls - HERO - RECIPE</h1><cite class="credit">Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Lillian Chou</cite>

Date Pistachio Fudge Balls - HERO - RECIPE

Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Lillian Chou

In Islam, a glass of water and some dates is the recommended way to break one’s fast. These laddus add a little more substance to that ritual, thanks to the pistachios and almonds. I find that the addition of the nuts makes these more filling than a date on its own, kick-starting your system slowly with enough energy to get you through the rest of your cooking. Get the recipe

Life-changing oatmeal cookies

<h1 class="title">Date Oatmeal Cookies - RECIPE</h1><cite class="credit">Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Lillian Chou</cite>

Date Oatmeal Cookies - RECIPE

Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Lillian Chou

This oatmeal-date cookie recipe from Roxana Jullapat is one of my favorites on Epicurious to date. The oats and wheat flour make them both filling and nutritious, while the dates, which are used instead of raisins, add a satisfying chew and caramelly sweetness. Fair warning: It’s REALLY hard to eat just one.  Get the recipe

A crisp cucumber salad

Cucumber Dill Salad

Cucumber Dill Salad

Cucumber Dill Salad
Johnny Miller

A refreshing, low-lift start to your iftar that also happens to be hydrating, thanks to all the cucumbers. Just like eating a dill pickle straight from the jar, this salad is perfect as is. But if you need to add something a little more substantial to break your fast, add grilled chicken or spoon it over some yogurt. Get the recipe

A juicy melon salad

<h1 class="title">Watermelon-Berry Salad With Chile Dressing and Lots of Herbs</h1><cite class="credit">Photo by Eva Kosmas Flores</cite>

Watermelon-Berry Salad With Chile Dressing and Lots of Herbs

Photo by Eva Kosmas Flores

One of my biggest challenges during Ramadan (and frankly, in life) is staying hydrated. So I’ll try to sneak more fluids into my body with what I eat; this watermelon salad is a perfect example. Full of juicy watermelon, fresh berries, and herbs, and dressed with a Thai-inspired mixture that’s beyond delicious, this dish is what every fruit salad wishes it could be. The dressing can be made three days in advance and works just as well on a bed of greens as on a pile of fruit. Get the recipe

What to eat after you break your fast

After you've had one of the bites above, you can settle into preparing something more substantial. Personally, this is the time that I yearn for dishes that evoke memories of Ramadan in Bangladesh. When I was growing up, iftar was incomplete without a heaping pile of kala channa and a warm bowl of haleem to cap the meal. Both of these dishes (and the hummus bowl below) are great sources of an essential nutrient that people often neglect during this month. “A lot of people don’t eat enough vegetables or fiber, which can result in digestive issues,” says Qureshi. Consider making big batches so you have plenty of leftovers to ease the stress of planning for iftar while you’re fasting—I’ve also included a few quick fixes for when you don’t want something different.

A soothing bowl of lamb haleem

<h1 class="title">Lamb Haleem - HERO - RECIPE</h1><cite class="credit">Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Micah Marie Morton</cite>

Lamb Haleem - HERO - RECIPE

Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Micah Marie Morton

This is one of those dishes we rarely made at home because so many vendors around Chittagong were renowned for haleem. Not to mention, it takes hours to make. This version of the porridge-like dish, though, comes together in an Instant Pot, which dramatically reduces both the cooking time and the effort. Various types of dals, barley, rice, and stew cuts of lamb (you can use chicken if you’d like) meld together in the pressure cooker with very little supervision to form the most comforting, luscious, umami-packed dish. Get the recipe

A big pot of kala channa

<cite class="credit">Photo by Laura Edwards</cite>
Photo by Laura Edwards

Compared to the more common beige variety, black chickpeas are smaller in size and a little denser in texture. This recipe is a take on the classic kala channa preparation that you’ll find in many Bengali Muslim households during Ramadan. I like to add some crushed tomatoes to give the sauce a little more body. It’s unlikely that you’ll find a bag of these at your local grocery store, but they should be readily available at any South Asian market or online. Get the recipe

Smoky, toasty bhuna khichuri

<cite class="credit">Photo by Laura Edwards</cite>
Photo by Laura Edwards

Bengalis in both India and Bangladesh—and around the world—hold this dish very near and dear to our hearts. It gets its signature smoky and toasty flavor from the lentils that get dry-roasted in a wok before cooking. They then go into a pot with rice and hearty spices like turmeric, cardamom, and cinnamon and cooked until the flavors meld. The result is a deeply fragrant dish with a golden yellow hue, almost like an edible hug that can reenergize and bring comfort after a long day of fasting. Get the recipe

Tangy-sweet air-fryer salmon

<h1 class="title">Air Fried Salmon with Sweet Tamarind Glaze - RECIPE</h1><cite class="credit">Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Drew Aichele</cite>

Air Fried Salmon with Sweet Tamarind Glaze - RECIPE

Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Drew Aichele

It just takes 15 minutes of work to prepare Nik Sharma’s air-fryer salmon, slicked with a tangy-sweet tamarind glaze that complements the richness of the fish. Pro tip: Double the recipe for the glaze to fast-track the prep for next time because, trust me, you’ll want to make this dish again within days. Get the recipe

Quick and easy hummus bowl

<h1 class="title">COOK 90 - Salad Power Sprinkle - RECIPE</h1><cite class="credit">Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Anna Stockwell</cite>

COOK 90 - Salad Power Sprinkle - RECIPE

Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Anna Stockwell

I love using Anna Stockwell’s Winter Salad Hummus Bowl recipe as a flexible, build-your-own formula, changing up the hummus flavor and adding just about any type of vegetable. Almost every aspect of this dish can be made ahead. All you need to do is pile it on a plate, add a warm, fluffy pita, and you’re golden. Get the recipe

Hariyali murgh

<cite class="credit">Photo by Laura Edwards</cite>
Photo by Laura Edwards

This chicken dish is a great example of traditional South Asian flavors incorporated with the need for ease in today’s busy schedules. Just four ingredients get blended together to create a flavorful marinade that tenderizes and infuses the chicken overnight. (I prefer marinating the chicken right in the roasting pan to minimize steps and dishes.) The most time-consuming part of this dish is the cooking time, which is an hour and a half. But with the amount of leftovers and all the ways you can eat this chicken (with chapatis, rice, and even the winter salad hummus bowl), that’s a small price to pay. Get the recipe

Snack for times between iftar and suhoor

I’m a notorious snacker, always looking for things to munch on. You could even say that snacks are the most important meal of the day for me. But since that’s not a lifestyle I can have in the daytime during Ramadan, after-iftar snacks are crucial. Here’s what I’ll keep stocked close at hand.

Mutabbal shamandar

<h1 class="title">Beet Mutabal - RECIPE</h1><cite class="credit">Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Susan Ottaviano</cite>

Beet Mutabal - RECIPE

Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Susan Ottaviano

This beet and tahini dip makes it super easy to sneak more vegetables into your Ramadan regimen. And as the recipe's headnote suggests, it does get better with time, so make enough of it so you have a week’s worth for snacking. Get the recipe

Tangy mixed nuts with cornflakes

<h1 class="title">Chaat Masala Nuts - HERO</h1><cite class="credit">Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Lillian Chou</cite>

Chaat Masala Nuts - HERO

Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Lillian Chou

Eating cereal for your entire suhoor may not be the move, but turning it into part of a snack is highly encouraged. (By me, at least.) In this recipe, a box of boring cornflakes gets zhuzhed up with chaat masala, almonds, and cashews to become a crunchy snack that’s ideal for after-iftar grazing. Store a double recipe in an airtight container for when you still need a little something to nibble on. Get the recipe

Soft-boiled tea eggs

<h1 class="title">Soft-Boiled Tea Eggs - RECIPE</h1><cite class="credit">Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Erika Joyce</cite>

Soft-Boiled Tea Eggs - RECIPE

Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Erika Joyce

The oolong tea, soy sauce, and aromatics give these snackable eggs deep flavor—they’re also an excellent accompaniment to your iftar or suhoor. If you’re not into noshing on eggs as is, eat them over some rice with a drizzle of chili oil or atop any salad or hummus bowl. The tea eggs keep in the fridge quite well for about two days. Get the recipe

Crispy nimki

<cite class="credit">Photo by Laura Edwards</cite>
Photo by Laura Edwards

I’ve consumed an inordinate amount of nimki in my lifetime but never actually made them at home until very recently. These little fried parallelograms are flecked with nigella seeds that impart a slightly bitter but herbaceous flavor that keeps you going back for more. These last for weeks stored in an airtight container, and they are the perfect accompaniment to a hot cup of post-iftar chai. Get the recipe

Originally Appeared on Epicurious