A vegan iftar: plant-based recipes for a four-course Ramadan meal

The author of popular blog One Arab Vegan shares recipes for a soup, starter, main and dessert

Ramadan is one of my favourite times of year – for the slower pace, opportunity to reflect and reconnect with your spirituality, and precious time spent with loved ones. Then there's all the wonderful food.

I've been vegan for more than a decade, so planning a plant-based Ramadan for me is almost second nature by now. Still, one of the things I love to do when this time of year rolls around is innovate and recreate vegan versions of classic Ramadan fare I grew up enjoying with my family.

Although I've spent the past four holy months away from family since moving to the UAE, it is usually one of the busiest times of the year. Taking after my mother, I absolutely love to host and cook for people, so my friends and colleagues are usually in for a few unforgettable feasts.

Last year, in light of the ongoing pandemic, however, we had to adapt and stay connected virtually, so long phone calls with my mum before iftar, asking her for notes on a specific recipe, became the norm.

This year, perhaps the biggest challenge, as it has been for many years, is longer fasting days with limited time to eat and replenish our energy in between. For this, my top tip is to think of breaking your fast as a marathon: slow and steady wins the race. Start your iftar with a warming soup and a light salad, then wait an hour or so before having your main meal (and then dessert, of course).

Here are my top four recipes for a full-course vegan feast.

Quinoa harira soup

Serves: four to six

A hearty and warming vegan rendition of Moroccan harira, full to the brim with chickpeas, lentils, vegetables and spices.

Ingredients

1½ tbsp coconut oil

1 large white onion, sliced

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

3 stalks of celery, finely sliced

5 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tsp ground cumin

1½ tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp smoked paprika

½ tsp ground nutmeg

¼ tsp red chilli powder (to taste)

½ tsp grated fresh ginger

½ tsp saffron threads

2 tbsp tomato paste

4 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped

800ml vegetable stock or water

1½ cups cooked chickpeas

½ cup green lentils, uncooked

½ cup quinoa, uncooked

⅓ cup each of fresh coriander and parsley, finely chopped

Juice from half a lemon

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Method

  1. Start by sauteeing the onion, carrots and celery in the coconut oil in a heavy-bottomed pot with a lid. Add a pinch of sea salt and cook on a low heat for five to 10 minutes until soft.
  2. Add in the garlic, spices and tomato paste, then turn up the heat and cook for three to five minutes more, until fragrant.
  3. Add the tomatoes, stock, chickpeas, lentils and quinoa and allow to simmer before turning down the heat and covering. Cook for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding water as needed. The soup is done when the vegetables are cooked through and lentils are tender.
  4. Remove from heat then taste to adjust seasonings before stirring in the fresh herbs and lemon juice. Serve piping hot.

Vegan cheese samboosas

Makes: 15 to 20 samboosas

These crispy little pastry pockets stuffed with the meltiest homemade vegan cheese are my plant-based rendition of a Ramadan staple enjoyed by many across the Arab world.

Ingredients

For the cheese

½ cup of raw cashews (boiled for 10 mins)

3 tbsp of nutritional yeast

3 tbsp + 2 tsp of tapioca starch

¾ tsp sea salt

1 tsp apple cider vinegar

1¼ cup of water

For the samboosa

1 packet of samosa pastry sheets

1 tbsp olive oil

½ cup water

Method

  1. Add all the cheese ingredients to a blender and blend on high until smooth.
  2. Pour the blended mixture into a small saucepan on a medium heat, then using a wooden spoon or spatula continuously stir while cooking. You will see small clumps start to form and at about the five-minute mark your mixture should turn into one big gooey mass of cheese. Cook for an additional 30 seconds to one minute to ensure everything is firmed up.
  3. Store in a jar and allow to cool in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before handling.
  4. To assemble, place a samosa pastry sheet vertically on a cutting board or plate and start by adding a light wash of water using a pastry brush – this helps the edges to stick together better (depending on how dry or moist your sheets are you may be able to skip this step).
  5. Add about one to two teaspoons of the cheese mixture to the far right corner, then, using the bottom right corner, fold the pastry over the filling in a triangle shape. Then take the top right corner of that triangle and fold horizontally, alternating the previous two steps until you have a triangle-shaped parcel. Seal the final flap.
  6. Continue until all samosa sheets are used up.
  7. Preheat oven to 200°C. Place the samboosas on a lined baking sheet and brush lightly with olive oil on each side. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until golden brown and crisp.

Cauliflower musakhan

Serves: two to four

Musakhan goes vegan with spicy sumac-infused cauliflower and chickpea bites drizzled with a heavenly yoghurt tahini sauce, topped with pomegranate and fresh parsley.

Ingredients

For the cauliflower musakhan

1 medium head of cauliflower, chopped into medium-sized florets (about 3-4 cups)

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp sumac

1 tsp of cumin

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup cooked chickpeas

3 tbsp pomegranate tendrils

¼ cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

For the tahini-yoghurt dressing

1 clove of garlic, crushed

2 tsp white or apple cider vinegar

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp tahini

¼ cup non-dairy yoghurt of your choice

1 tsp cumin powder

2 tbsp water (plus more as needed)

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Method

For the cauliflower musakhan

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cauliflower florets, onions, olive oil, sumac, cumin, cinnamon and salt and pepper. Mix well and ensure that the spices are evenly distributed.
  3. Transfer the mixture to a large baking dish and cover with foil, then bake for 20 minutes.
  4. Remove the foil and add in the chickpeas, using a spatula to mix in with the contents of the dish. Bake for an additional 10 to 12 minutes until the cauliflower is tender.
  5. Remove from the oven and assemble on a serving dish, drizzling the tahini-yoghurt sauce on top and scattering the pomegranate and parsley over it.

For the dressing

  1. Prepare the dressing by combining all the ingredients in a small mixing bowl.
  2. Whisk everything together until well combined, taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Salted caramel date cake

Serves: six to eight

Naturally sweetened and bursting with moisture, this date cake is the perfect baked good to take to a potluck or even enjoy at home throughout the week as a guilt-free dessert.

Ingredients

For the cake

16 medium pitted dates (about ½ cup tightly packed)

¼ cup melted coconut oil

½ cup coconut sugar

½ tsp pure vanilla powder or 1 tsp liquid vanilla extract

¼ cup mashed banana

¾ cup almond milk

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp ground cinnamon

Pinch of sea salt

¼ cup walnuts, roughly chopped

For the salted caramel sauce

1 can of full-cream coconut milk

½ cup coconut sugar

½ tsp pure vanilla powder or 1 tsp liquid vanilla extract

¼ tsp sea salt (or more as desired)

Toppings (optional)

Chopped walnuts or pecan nuts

Chocolate chips

Coconut chips

Method

For the cake

  1. Soak the dates in warm water for at least two to four hours to soften (if you have a high-speed blender, you can skip this step).
  2. Preheat your oven to 180°C and lightly grease 20-centimetre baking pan with some coconut oil or line with parchment paper.
  3. To a blender, add the dates, coconut oil, coconut sugar, vanilla, mashed banana and almond milk, and blend until smooth – the mixture should look like a thick caramel sauce. Transfer to a medium-sized bowl using a spatula to scrape the sides of the blender.
  4. In another medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and a pinch of salt, whisking together until well mixed.
  5. Add in the flour mixture to the wet mixture a little at a time, using a whisk to mix until everything is well incorporated and there are no large lumps – be careful not to over mix.
  6. Fold in your chopped walnuts using a small spatula.
  7. Transfer the mixture to your cake pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick or knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  8. Allow to cool before pouring on the sauce and toppings.

For the salted caramel sauce

  1. While the cake is baking, prepare your salted caramel sauce. To a medium pot, add in the coconut milk, coconut sugar, vanilla and sea salt, whisking well to combine.
  2. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat to amedium-low, allowing the mixture to simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, until thickened. Be sure to stir frequently and keep a close eye on it, to ensure it does not overflow, as it can boil over very easily.

More vegan recipes are available at onearabvegan.com