Ramadan Soup for Everyone
Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, began this week and continues until Oct. 23. A month of fasting does not mean abstaining from food for the entire time; rather, fasting is observed daily, from sunrise to sunset.
In spite of the focus on fasting, food plays a key role in Ramadan, when the fast is broken, at the evening iftar meal. Light fare is the emphasis, as the body needs gradual sustenance rather than a huge feast, after a day without food or drink. Although dates and other dried fruit are often served first to replenish the system, soup is a staple on the iftar table, offering nourishment without glutting the body.
To that end, I offer a "how-to" for a soup that pays tribute to late-summer produce. For inspiration, I turned to "The Real Dirt on Vegetables" by Farmer John Peterson, an Illinois farmer and sustainable agriculture advocate who's making the big time with a documentary (out on DVD early next year, according to his Web site).
Using his recipe for roasted red pepper soup, I expanded things a bit, adding a healthy dose of small tomatoes for sweetness. The addition of the potato is an amazing trick for creaminess without the use of dairy. The end result is a smoky/sweet melange that warms the belly. The reason I use small tomatoes over large is the skin issue: with those small tomatoes, there was no reason to peel the skins and they pureed seamlessly with the rest of the ingredients.
For Ramadan table ideas, I found "The Arab Table" by May S. Bsisu to be extremely useful, devoting several pages to the topic, including menu ideas. Today's post, however, should be just a springboard. Please add your Ramadan favorites here, in the comments area below.
One last note: Today's soup marks the beginning of "Hot Pot," a weekly soup/stew feature in the blog. Mark your calendars, and please send your suggestions here or by e-mail. Finally, join me today at 1 p.m. ET for my monthly vegetarian chat.
Red Pepper (and Tomato) Soup
Inspired by "The Real Dirt on Vegetables" by Farmer John Peterson and Angelic Organics
4 large red bell peppers
3 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small potato, peeled and quartered
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
½ fresh chile, seeded and diced (substitute: 2 teaspoons paprika)
1 tablespoon fresh oregano or thyme (or ½ tablespoon dried)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ pint small tomatoes of choice, sliced in half (substitute: 1 large yellow or orange tomato)
1 ounce amber rum, bourbon or whiskey (optional)
vegetable or chicken stock or water
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (optional)
Roast the peppers: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice tops of peppers, remove seeds and place on a baking sheet. Allow to cook until skins are charred and blistered, about 1 hour. Place peppers in a paper bag to sweat, to help with skin removal. Clean peppers of all seeds, veins and remaining skin. Set aside.
In a large pot, heat butter (I used a combination of butter and olive oil) and add onion, potato, garlic and chile, cooking until soft. Add herbs, tomato paste and stir to combine, allowing tomato paste to cook for about 1 minute. Add booze (if using), and bring up to a boil. Add tomatoes, peppers and liquid, just enough to cover. Bring up to a boil, then cook on a simmer, until potato is tender, about 30 minutes.
Remove herb sprigs and add salt and vinegar (if using). Adjust as necessary. Puree soup, using a hand-held stick blender or a food processor. Be careful of spattering hot liquid. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Return to pot to reheat or eat at room temperature.
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