I was lucky to be invited to two iftar dinners by my Turkish cooking teachers. This gave me a chance to learn about the traditions as well as to eat delicious homemade Turkish dishes.
Both dinners were arranged by Pacifica Institute, one in Los Angeles, the other in Huntington Beach. They were called Ramadan friendship dinners, because the idea was to bring people together, and they were free.
The first took place at St. Sophia Cathedral's Huffington Center. At the top you can see the table as it appeared before we started eating, with small plates and desserts ringed around the center along with water--Muslims do not drink while fasting.
I was thrilled that dinner started with tomato soup, the same tomato soup that I learned in my classes with Ayse Demirkan in Reseda. I make it all the time, sprinkled with cheese and black pepper as she recommended.
It took 10 women to prepare the food, and they came on stage for an enthusiastic round of applause when the dinner was over.
The next night's dinner was outdoors at Old World Village in Huntington Beach, a quaint area that rambles like an old-time European village.
Eren Aksoy, who teaches Turkish cooking for Pacifica in Orange County, sat next to me, so I was able get details of how the dishes were made. The desserts were on the table at the start of dinner (above) along with dates, which are traditional for breaking the Ramadan fast.
The pale square in the dessert bowl (above) is irmik muhallebi, a semolina pudding topped with walnuts and cinnamon. The little round cakes are kemalpasa, named for Kemal Ataturk, the first president of Turkey, who liked this dessert. Eren Aksoy made these, boiling the cakes in sugar syrup.
At both dinners, diners came and went to areas set aside for prayer. I had a leisurely breakfast the next day, but my Muslim friends said they would be up by 3 a.m. to have breakfast well before dawn--that meal is called suhoor--and then begin another day of fasting.