Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 34, Tuesday September 2, 2008



Soups, broths and chowders

Ramadan has already begun - a month of fasting and self-restraint. But this does not mean abstaining from good food entirely.

In spite of the focus on fasting, food plays a key role in Ramadan. Light fare should be the emphasis, as the body needs gradual sustenance rather than a huge feast. Although dates, fruits and sherbet are often served first to replenish the system, soups should be a staple on the iftar table, offering nourishment without glutting the body.

Shrimp chowder
4 large onions, peeled and sliced
¼ cup butter or margarine
1 cup boiling water
6 medium potatoes, pared and cubed
1 tbsp salt
½ tsp pepper
6 cups milk
2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
2 lbs raw shrimp, shelled and divided
3 tbsp snipped parsley or coriander

In a Dutch oven, sauté onion slices in hot butter until tender. Add boiling water, then potatoes, salt and pepper. Simmer, covered for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Do not drain.

Meanwhile, heat milk with cheese until cheese is melted and milk is hot, but NOT boiling. Add shrimp to potatoes and cook until they are pink (3 minutes).

Add hot milk and cheese mixture. Heat, but do not boil. Sprinkle with fresh parsley.

Cheesy cauliflower soup with roasted cashew nuts
25g butter
80g cashew nuts, roughly chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 medium potato, diced
1 medium cauliflower, divided into florets
850ml vegetable stock
115g Cheddar cheese, grated

Melt the butter in a large lidded saucepan and brown the chopped cashew nuts for about 1 minute.
Stir in the onion, garlic and potato, cover and sweat for 10 mins, shaking the pan occasionally.
Add the cauliflower and stock, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20 mins or until the cauliflower is tender.
Remove from heat and blend in the cheese, allow to cool slightly.
Blend half of the mixture and then stir this through the rest of the soup so that you can actually see pieces of cauliflower and nut.
Reheat very gently without boiling so as not to toughen the cheese.

Mexican chicken corn Chowder
1½ lb boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp butter
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 cup hot water
½ tsp grounded cumin
2 cups cheese, shredded
1 (16 ounces) can cream-style corn
4 ounces canned chop green chillies, undrained
¼ tsp Tabasco sauce, or to taste
1 medium tomato, chopped

Add butter to large stockpot or Dutch oven. Brown chicken, onion and garlic over medium heat. Dissolve bouillon in cup of hot water. Add to chicken. Add cumin. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover pot and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add half and half, cheese, corn, chillies and Tabasco. Cook only until the cheese is melted. Stir in tomato. Serve hot.

Betki or salmon chowder
1 can (7½ oz) salmon or mandarin (betki)
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped onions
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp butter
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced potatoes
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
½ tbsp thyme
¼ tbsp black pepper
½ cup chopped broccoli
1 can (13 oz) low-fat evaporated milk
1 package (10 oz) frozen corn kernels, thawed
Minced parsley

Drain salmon into shallow bowl, reserve liquid. Flake salmon with fork.
In small saucepan over low heat, sauté celery, onions and garlic in butter.
As vegetables become soft, add carrots, potatoes, reserved liquid, chicken broth and seasonings.
Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
Add broccoli and cook for additional 5 minutes.
Add salmon, corn and evaporated milk. Heat through.
Serve in shallow bowls.
Sprinkle with parsley.

Coconut curry salmon chowder
1 lb fresh salmon
1 tsp salt
2 tsp garlic herb bread seasoning
1 yellow onion
8 stalks celery
6 carrots
2 can coconut milk
½ tsp Thai green curry paste
1 cup fresh coconut
½ tsp vanilla
1 cup fresh peas from the pod
1 cup fresh spinach

Sprinkle fish with some salt and garlic herb bread seasoning and steam fry. Or, if you prefer, use some grape seed oil and fry until cooked through but still moist. Cut into small bite-size pieces and set aside.

Cut the onion, carrots, and celery into bite-size chunks, and put into a soup pot and steam until bright and chewy. (Do not overcook)

Add the coconut milk, green curry paste, vanilla, and stir into mix. Add salmon.

Take 1/3rd of the whole ingredients and puree in blender and then return to the soup for a thick colourful base. Add fresh peas from the pod and/or fresh spinach towards the end if you like, and warm before serving.

Chicken broth in a slow cooker
½ onion
½ cup butter
2 cups water
4 cups chicken broth
4 cups milk
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
4 cups mild cheddar cheese
2 cans white potatoes

Cook onion in butter until tender. Add chicken broth, water, milk, and potatoes if you desire. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and add Worcestershire sauce, and cheddar cheese.
Stir until completely melted. Add white flour for a thicker soup and sprinkle cheese on top. Serve hot.

Aromatic broth with vegetable
1 stalk lemon grass
4 cups cubed chicken meat
1 cup chicken or fish stock
½ cup sliced cilantro leaves
1 serrano or jalapeno chilli
½ tsp grated lime zest
lime juice to taste
1½ tbsp salt
pepper to taste
3 oz peas
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
4 medium radishes cut in pieces
1 green part of 1 scallion
2 tbsp whole cilantro leaves

Cut lemon grass in 2-inch pieces; bruise lightly. Combine with stock, cilantro stems, chilli, and lime zest in saucepan. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes (halfway through, taste and remove hot pepper, if desired, or leave in longer for more heat). Strain. (Solids can be re-used with more cilantro to flavour another batch of broth.) Add limejuice, salt and pepper. Bring soup to a boil. Stir in peas and carrots and boil until just tender- about 1 1/2 minutes. Stir in radishes, scallion, and cilantro; bring to a boil.

Beef and potato soup
1 lb ground beef/chuck
7-10 potatoes (peeled and sliced into about 1 inch cubes
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
2 cans beef broth
1 16 oz sour cream
1 chopped onion

Boil potatoes for about 20 minutes or until soft. Meanwhile, brown beef and onions. Drain. Add cream of mushroom soup, broth and heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low/medium. Add sour cream. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain potatoes and add to pot. Let simmer until ready to serve. This makes a very thick soup but it is delicious!

Red pepper and spicy tomato soup
1 large red pepper, halved and deseeded
½ tsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small chilli, deseeded and chopped
200ml tomato juice
500ml chicken or vegetable stock (or stock cube crumbled in the same quantity of water)
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp plain yoghurt
sprinkling of chopped fresh parsley or thyme damper bread, or other bread to serve.

Grill the pepper halves skin-side up under a high heat until the skin blisters, then peel away the charred skin and chop the flesh. Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the onion, chilli and chopped grilled pepper together and cook with the lid on until soft. Add the tomato juice and stock, stirring until well combined. Simmer gently with the lid on for about 20 minutes. Stir in the sugar. Pulse in a blender or processor to a coarse puree, keeping some consistency. Pour into warmed bowls and top with a spoonful of yoghurt and a sprinkling of herbs.

Special Feature

Days in Makkah

For a city that cradles Masjid al-Haram, that bore our beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and has served as a major commercial hub since time immemorial, celebration of Ramadan takes a distinct form and flavour. Ramadan tastes better in Makkah.

Being one of the holiest cities, Makkah keeps itself prepared for the pilgrims all the year round. But with the advent of Ramadan, the city undergoes a transformation that can only be compared with Hajj. There is a huge surge of Muslims from all over the world who crave for an Umrah during this holy month. Some of them even rent a villa and spend the whole month praying and living in the close proximity of the Qa'ba. It is estimated that last year around two million people gathered for the prayer of Laylat al-Qadr in the Haram Sharif.

During Ramadan most of the daytime activities are cut down. Office hours are short and business is slow. Fasting people are often seen with a prayer rosary in hand and a meswak stick to do away with bad breathl. Pilgrims spend idle hours in the Grand Mosque or take a tour to other sacred places around.

After Asr, however, the city comes alive with restaurants being opened and people getting ready for iftar. Locals prepare special food and drinks only for Ramadan, including sambosa, dates and dairy, cereal soup and desserts like toromba, basboosa, mehallabiyya and baklava.

Iftar at the Grand Mosque may be a once in a lifetime experience for many people, and it is surely the most rewarding and fulfilling one. Most of the food that is on offer in the holy mosque is brought by local people who take it from the long-standing tradition of Islam. It is remarkable to see these people laying down ‘sufras' (transparent dining sheets), setting cups, distributing coffee, tea and dates and often delaying their own iftar to ensure the pilgrims are at ease and comfort.

With the call for prayer, everyone joins hand to clean away the food and in less than a minute the carpets are cleaned and people are ready for the prayer. As the Salaah continues one cannot but help notice the fervour with which people supplicate as their eyes swell with tears.

Pilgrims from across the world can be seen busily praying in their own languages asking Allah to cure their loved ones, to grant them lives that are lived in His servitude, forgiveness of sins and for the needs of both this world and the hereafter. What better place is there to beseech the Almighty than the holy mosque while one is fasting during Ramadan!

In between Isha'a and Maghreb, people spend hours resting and sipping ‘kawa' or discussing ahadith with friends and family. After taraweeh, men and women hop around from souqs to modern shopping malls to western fast food chains, which remain open till 2 a.m., when preparations for the sohour meal that precedes dawn prayers begin.

What makes Ramadan in Makkah Al Mukarrammah so special is the piety and a sense of closeness with the Creator that one feels all around him.

By Shakhawat Imam Rajeeb


Here I go again! More of Sri Lanka. What can I do? I am having so much fun! And slowly, but steadily, exploring the intricacies of this wonderful cuisine. A cuisine that is almost familiar, but not quite. One that gives a sense of familiarity yet keeps you guessing.

The caretaker at the guesthouse has turned out to be a fabulous cook, much to my delight. In a short span of time, she has clearly figured out that this man is into culinary experimentation. So one night I got chicken soup, redolent with leeks. Another night, macaroni with peas and carrot in a wonderful cheese sauce spiked with cloves. But the cherry on the cake, almost literally, was a breakfast, where she brought a flan dish with an innocuous brown round thing and said “Watalappan, for you.”

I had heard of this dish from my friends. I knew that it is a pudding of coconut and like most other puddings consists of eggs and milk. Given my past experience of Sri Lankan food, I half expected something chock a block with coconut, something not too sweet (I am yet to encounter anything that is very sweet) and something chewy.

My colleagues had told me that one can buy Watalappan off the shelf at most supermarkets. But my search so far yielded nothing.

And that is why, one day, I gathered the courage to request the caretaker if she could make it. I was greeted by considerable surprise at my knowledge. Then she went on to inform me that it is an extremely involved process, consisting of grating fresh coconut, mixing eggs and baking. I had given up at that point.

So you can imagine my surprise when the flan was presented to me. I had just finished a sumptuous breakfast of Kiribhath and jaggery with some very ripe papaya and a glass of milk. And just could not eat another bite.

But I could not possibly refuse! It was put in front of me after all.

I took a spoon. Actually, was looking for a knife to cut a slice. The spoon, surprisingly, went very smoothly into the pudding and out came a perfectly stable chunk. The rest of the pudding did not collapse, as I was dreading.

I ate that chunk of pudding. And what a revelation!

The pudding had a silky texture, very non-chewy, but did not slide down the throat. Coconut was a gentle hint and not the central role. Jaggery provided the rustic sweetness with a cutting edge. Eggs were evident in the silkiness of the texture. I honestly do not know what held it together. And the piece de resistance the faintest hint of nutmeg, transporting you immediately to a different time zone where Roman priests used to burn nutmeg as incense.

I have heard a lot about the Mexican flan, which makes liberal use of the vanilla pod and lemon zest, but have never tasted it. I am told, that is the best example of flan under the sun. But on this side of the Atlantic, I think I have found a worthy competition to the famed flan of Vera Cruz in the middle of urban Colombo. Hope I saved some for dinner!



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