Food & Drink

Cooking good food fast is key for Ramadan

The Washington Post

For The Washington Post

When a cook such as Rima Kasm prepares for Ramadan – the month-long period during which Muslims fast during daylight hours – she knows that planning is even more essential than usual.

“I will write down what I want to cook each day and get everything I need,” says the Newport Beach resident who came to America from her native Lebanon 25 years ago.

She will rise before dawn to make and share the morning meal known as suhoor, and cook the evening meal, iftar, without tasting it, before the sun sets.

“Following my good recipes makes it OK for me,” Kasm says. “I rely on them.”

At the top of the list: foods that hydrate and don’t take long to make, such as soups, because the fast also prohibits the intake of any liquids. Spicy dishes such as curries are avoided, since they bring on thirst. She makes a soup almost every day, as well as the pita and vegetable salads known as fattoush. Dates and dessert sweets are on her daily menu, which begins Friday at sundown this year.

Kasm says you’ll find a pressure cooker in many Ramadan kitchens, an invaluable aid that allows her to make bean stews, lentils and fragrant chicken with rice and warming spices in as little as 20 minutes.

For cooks who might not be quite as organized as she or are looking to add variety to their pressure-cooker repertoire for the holiday, here are recipes that work for the holiday – including dessert.

Carrot coconut cake

Serves 4

There’s not much of a rise in this cake, but its texture does approximate that of a baked carrot cake with a moist, dense crumb. And it couldn’t be easier to make.

You’ll need a 6-inch round cake pan.

Adapted from “The ‘I Love My Instant Pot’ Recipe Book: From Trail Mix Oatmeal to Mongolian Beef BBQ,” by Michelle Fagone (Adams Media/Simon and Schuster).

1/4 cup liquefied coconut oil

1/3 to 1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup packed peeled, grated carrots, plus a few shavings for optional garnish

1/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut, plus more, toasted, for optional garnish

1/2 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup chopped pecans

Cream cheese frosting (optional; see note below)

Whisk together the oil, sugar (to taste), egg, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, carrots, flaked coconut, flour, baking powder and pecans in a medium bowl; do not over-mix.

Pour a cup of water into the Instant Pot and then set a trivet in it; place the mix in the cake pan and place the pan atop the trivet. The water should not come up higher than the bottom of the cake pan.

Lock the Instant Pot lid. Press the MANUAL button and set the timer to 20 minutes.

Once the timer beeps, let the pressure release naturally for 5 minutes. Carefully quick-release any additional pressure until the float valve drops, then unlock the lid.

Transfer the cake pan to a wire rack to cool. (Drain the Instant Pot.)

To serve, invert onto a platter. Spread the frosting on top, if using, then garnish with the optional toasted coconut flakes or optional carrot shavings.

NOTE: To make just enough cream cheese frosting for this cake, whisk together 4 ounces room-temperature cream cheese, 8 tablespoons (1 stick) room-temperature unsalted butter, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 8 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar and a pinch of kosher salt in a mixing bowl, until smooth.

Per serving: 300 calories, 3 g protein, 20 g carbohydrates, 23 g fat, 17 g saturated fat, 45 mg cholesterol, 25 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 17 g sugar

Chicken and lentil soup

Serves 8 (makes about 10 1/2 cups)

Lentils are a go-to ingredient for Ramadan soups; this one’s quite flavorful and all done in a single pot. It’s also filling without being heavy.

We noticed in testing that this soup thickens upon standing; feel free to stir in 1 to 2 cups additional water when you reheat it. You’ll need a 6-quart pressure cooker or an Instant Pot.

Adapted from a recipe at

1 pound dried brown or green lentils

12 to 15 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs (fat trimmed)

7 cups water

2 tablespoons Better Than Bouillon (paste) chicken flavor

1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped

2 scallions, white and light-green parts, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium-size ripe tomato, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves

1 teaspoon granulated garlic (powder)

1 teaspoon ground sumac (may substitute cumin)

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed

Combine the lentils, chicken (to taste), water, bouillon, onion, scallions, garlic, tomato, cilantro, granulated garlic, ground sumac, oregano, paprika and salt in the pressure cooker or Instant Pot.

Lock the pressure-cooker lid in place. Turn the heat to high; once the pot reaches HIGH pressure, cook for 30 minutes, adjusting the heat to maintain pressure, as needed. For the Instant Pot, lock the lid and press the SOUP button and cook for 30 minutes. Use the pressure releases, then unlock and open.

Transfer the chicken to a cutting board; use two forks to shred it, then return it to the pot, stirring to incorporate. Taste, and adjust the salt, as needed.

Serve hot.

Per serving: 320 calories, 23 g protein, 38 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 620 mg sodium, 18 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar

Chickpea and artichoke tagine

Serves 4 to 6 (makes about 10 cups)

This makes a lovely and inviting meatless meal; starting with dried chickpeas really improves the overall texture of the final dish.

You'll need a 6-quart pressure cooker or Instant Pot.

Serve with rice.

MAKE AHEAD: The dried chickpeas need to be salt-soaked for 8 to 24 hours.

Adapted from "Pressure Cooker Perfection: 100 Foolproof Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook," by the editors of America's Test Kitchen (ATK, 2013).

2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more as needed

8 ounces dried chickpeas, rinsed and picked over

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

1 medium onion, cut in half and thinly sliced

Four 2-inch-long strips lemon peel (little or no pith)

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground za'atar (may substitute ground cumin)

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons flour

1 pound carrots (trimmed and scrubbed well), cut into 1/2-inch-thick coins

One 15-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted

3 cups no-salt-added vegetable broth

9 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted and patted dry

1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, each cut in half

Leaves from about 25 cilantro stems, chopped (packed 1/2 cup)

Freshly ground black pepper

Dissolve the salt in a large mixing bowl filled with 4 quarts of water. Add the dried chickpeas. Let sit for 8 to 24 hours, then drain and rinse.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in the pressure-cooker pot over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the onion; cook for 5 minutes until just softened, then stir in the strips of lemon peel, garlic, paprika, za'atar, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Cook for 30 seconds, then stir in the flour, using a wooden spatula to dislodge any browned bits. Add the carrots, diced tomatoes and drained chickpeas, stirring to coat, then pour in the broth.

Lock the pressure-cooker lid in place. Increase the heat to high; once the pot reaches HIGH pressure, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 25 minutes, adjusting the heat to maintain pressure, as needed.

Remove the pot from the heat. Release the pressure, then carefully remove the lid.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the artichokes and stir to coat. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until golden brown at the edges.

Discard the strips of lemon peel from the vegetable stew mixture in the pot, then stir in the artichokes, olives and cilantro. Taste and season lightly with more salt and black pepper, as needed.

Divide among individual wide, shallow bowls; drizzle each portion with oil. Serve warm.

Per serving (using 1 tablespoon salt): 290 calories, 11 g protein, 44 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 850 mg sodium, 13 g dietary fiber, 13 g sugar

Pressure cooker honey sesame chicken

Serves 4 to 6

Chances are good you’ll have the sauce ingredients on hand to make this easy, kid-friendly meal.

Serve with rice.

Adapted from a recipe at

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into bite-size chunks

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 medium onion, diced (1/2 cup)

1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1/4 cup ketchup

1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1/2 cup honey

2 tablespoons cornstarch

3 tablespoons water

Toasted/roasted sesame seeds

2 scallions, white and light-green parts, chopped, for garnish

Season the chicken lightly with salt and pepper.

Preheat the Instant Pot using the saute setting, or heat the oil in a stove-top pressure cooker over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the garlic, onion and chicken; cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the onion has just softened.

Add the soy sauce, ketchup and crushed red pepper flakes (to taste) and stir to incorporate. Lock the pressure-cooker lid in place. Increase the heat to HIGH; once the pot reaches pressure, cook for 3 minutes.

Once the timer beeps, turn off the heat. Carefully do a quick-pressure release.

Uncover; add the sesame oil and honey to the pot, stirring to incorporate.

Dissolve the cornstarch in water in a small bowl, then add to the pot, stirring to form a slightly thickened sauce. Stir in most of the sesame seeds.

Divide among individual plates; sprinkle with the scallions and remaining sesame seeds. Serve hot.

Per serving (based on 6): 260 calories, 37 g protein, 10 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 110 mg cholesterol, 870 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar