This month for MENA Cooking Club, the lovely group I’ve been cooking with to try more Middle Eastern and North African recipes, the country was Oman, hosted by Rafeeda of the mouthwatering blog, The Big Sweet Tooth.
This month also happens to fall during Ramadan. As I’ve been reading about Ramadan traditions around the world, it seems most Middle Eastern countries have a traditional iftar (fast opening meal) of a light soup of lentils and/or vegetables, humble food to kind of adjust the digestive system, gently bring it back to life. Makes sense, seems very peaceful and measured…then the Pakistani tradition, as far as I can tell, is party food: pakoray, dahi baray, papri chaat, rooh afza! Fried goodies and sugary drinks, at least we’ve got some watermelon or fruit chaat to balance it out, and I’ve been throwing in some roasted veggies or a fresh tomato salad as well.
Anyway, since this month was Oman and one of the suggested recipes was a vegetable soup, that’s what I chose to make because it seemed like an appropriate iftar dish. I focused on carrots and fennel and added some Middle Eastern spices. Several of the soup recipes I looked at were thickened with oats, which I found interesting, so I tried that here. It gave the soup a nice creamy texture that I’m sure is much healthier than actual cream, so I might be trying that trick more often. I’m happy with the garnish too, I shaved a carrot and fried the shavings into crispy little carrot chips to sprinkle on top – I always garnish, it makes even the most mundane dish a little special.
Please, friends, I’d love to hear more about your iftar traditions!
Spiced Carrot and Fennel Soup
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 small bulbs or 1 large bulb fennel, sliced
- whole spices: 1 teaspoon ajwain seeds (you could sub a little dried thyme), 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- powdered spices: 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon red chili
- 1 pound of carrots
- 1/4 cup quick cooking oats
- 4 cups chicken broth
In a large pot, heat butter/ghee and saute onion and garlic until the onion is translucent. Add fennel and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes or so until fennel is softened. Add whole spices and stir for a minute, add powdered spices and stir for a minute more.
Add carrots, oats, and 2 cups of the chicken broth. Stir well, bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and simmer until carrots are very soft. Puree in a blender and return to the pot. Add the remaining 2 cups of chicken broth and heat back through.
Serve garnished with crispy carrots (below) and chopped fennel fronds.
For the crispy carrot garnish
Peel and trim a medium carrot. Shave carrot into thin slices with the peeler. Heat a pan with oil and shallow fry the carrot in batches, until no longer bubbly and is beginning to turn golden. Remove to a paper towel lined plate.