quaker? i hardly know her!

January 16, 2013

It’s cold here in Riyadh. Well, not Missouri cold, but Saudi Arabia cold, definitely. The low today was 37 degrees Fahrenheit, and the high today is supposed to be 59 degrees. Which, for a country that hits 120 degrees on a regular basis in the summer, is cold, man. Cold.

Plus, the weather here in Riyadh is different. In Missouri, there’s still some moisture to the air, even in the cold. Here, it’s dry, dry, dry. (And I thought my skin hated Missouri winters!) So when it’s windy, the cold feels like it’s seeping into your bones.

So on this chilly day in the desert, I thought it would be a good idea to whip up some hot Quaker soup for lunch.

I was first introduced to the concept of Quaker soup during the fall of 2008. It was Saleh’s first Ramadan outside of Saudi Arabia. Soup (or shorba in Arabic), especially Quaker soup, is mostly a Saudi Ramadan specialty, so he couldn’t imagine not having Quaker soup during Ramadan. And although he’d never made it himself, he was determined to try. (This is also how he figured out how to make kabsa. I am pretty sure that many a young Saudi man has gone abroad to study and come back a pretty decent cook, due to so many homesickness-induced evenings spent attempting to emulate their mommas’ cooking in their own kitchens. So girls who’ve managed to fall in love with Saudis abroad, I have this advice for you: don’t cook for him. At least not right away. Let him figure out some of his own cooking skills. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.)

I admit that when Saleh first asked me if I knew where we could “buy Quaker,” I was confused. (Frankly, it sounded like some kind of drug euphemism. “Hey, dude, do you know a good Quaker dealer here?”)  He tried to explain: “You know, it has a the guy with white hair and a funny hat?” When I finally figured out that he meant oatmeal, I was a bit grossed out. I mean, I’m American–we eat oatmeal in the morning for breakfast, in all its thick, sludgy glory, preferably with lots of butter, sugar, cinnamon, and just a teensy bit of milk to cool it down (well, at least, that’s how my momma makes it). The thought of eating oatmeal in the evening, in a soup, was kinda icky.

Nevertheless, we went to the grocery store, and I steered him toward the breakfast aisle. I picked up a canister of Quaker quick oats and said, “Is this what you mean?”

Saleh got excited. “Yes! That’s him!”

So we bought a box of Quaker and took it back to his kitchen. I studied while he got busy cooking. By the time it was maghrib, I was starving enough to try Quaker soup. (I wasn’t Muslim yet then, but I was fasting with Saleh so he wouldn’t feel quite so sad and lonely.)

That Quaker “soup” was pretty much exactly what I expected it to be: tomatoey oatmeal. It was thick and sludgy and not at all soupy. But much to my surprise, it wasn’t that bad. Probably not something I’d ever want to eat again, and I certainly didn’t understand why Saleh had such a craving for the stuff (although he admitted, “Well, it’s not like my mom’s at all”). But still, it wasn’t terrible. Despite the promising start, though, he never tried to make Quaker soup again.

Then I got to Saudi Arabia, and I ate about a ton of my mother-in-law’s Quaker soup over the course of my first Ramadan here. Wow. I understood. Incredible. 

I watched her make her Quaker soup a few times, and I jotted down some basic notes. Then one day a few months ago, Saleh called me from work and said, “Honey, I don’t feel good. I’m coming home from work early. Can you make me some Quaker soup?”

Put me in, Coach! I consulted my notes and tweaked the recipe a bit. When I put the bowl of soup in front of Saleh, I said, “Try it.” Then…(in Squints’ from The Sandlot voice) he did. And he liked it! A lot!

So I’m proud of myself because Quaker soup is the first Saudi recipe that I have truly mastered. I don’t need a book, and I don’t need to call my mother-in-law to ask her questions. I can just whip it right up, and I know it will be good.

Truth be told, it’s really easy.

Here’s what you need:

Quick cooking Quaker oats, a can (or box, as is more common here) of tomato paste, water, milk, olive oil, whole cloves (ground cloves will work if that’s all you have), an onion, a couple limes, a garlic clove, a cube of chicken stock, and cardamom pods (again, the ground version will work). Lots of people put meat (chicken, lamb, etc.) in their Quaker soup; I don’t. It would take longer to cook, and plus, why mess with a good thing? It would be really easy to make this a vegetarian soup by substituting the chicken stock cube for a veggie stock cube. And it could be made vegan by substituting the milk with more water (although the soup will be slightly less creamy).

The small onion piece on the right is all the onion you need. Chopped up, it was probably about a quarter of a cup. I used the small part and the rest went into a zip baggie in the refrigerator. (And no, contrary to a popular Facebook story circulating right now, eating leftover onions will not kill you.) While you’re chopping on the cutting board, peel the garlic clove.

Next, put a little olive oil in the bottom of a small pot (just enough to cover the bottom of the pot), and mash the peeled garlic clove into the oil. (I suppose you could finely chop the garlic clove, if you don’t have a garlic smasher. And yes, I’m sure there is a more technical term for that tool, and no, I don’t know what it is. But I can safely say that in my Saudi kitchen, my garlic smasher and my lime squeezer are my two must-have kitchen gadgets.)

Add the chopped onion, about five cardamom pods, and about five whole cloves. Then put the pot on medium heat. When the onions and garlic are light brown, add water. You see the little cup measurement markings on the side of the pot? I fill the pot up with water until it hits two cups. Then I add milk until the liquid level hits three cups. After you add the milk, drop in the chicken stock cube (however, if you’re making this in the States, I would suggest using two cubes. The Knorr stock cubes that I use here are about twice the size of those Wyler ones that come in a jar).

Next, it’s time for the tomato paste! I usually use about half a box of tomato paste; I think that would be around four tablespoons or so. You can add more or less, depending on how tomatoey you like things.

Finally, add the Quaker oats! You can add anywhere from a quarter of a cup to a half cup. I like my soups to be a little thicker, so I usually go for closer to a half. But don’t overdo it on the Quaker. Even with a half a cup, it may seem like there’s hardly any oats in it at all. But the oats will expand as they cook, and if you put too much oats in the soup, you’ll just get tomato oatmeal (as Mr. Mostafa discovered the first time he tried to make it).

Yeah, it looks kinda gross now, but it won’t when it’s done. Cover it and let it simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes.

Once the Quaker cooks and has expanded, voila! You have Quaker soup. Garnish with cilantro (because let’s face it, everything looks better with cilantro) and if you like, squeeze fresh limes into the soup. (I think the number one rule in Saudi cooking is, everything tastes better with limes. Well, actually, maybe that’s the number two rule. The number one rule is probably, everything tastes better with hot sauce. I, along with many Saudis, go for Crystal; Saleh prefers good ol’ Tabasco. But in any case, I squeeze limes on pretty much everything now. They’re so versatile and make everything so delicious!)

So, yeah. That’s my version of Quaker soup. This recipe will make about two bowls of soup, so if you’re looking to feed a family, double (or triple) up! If you’re American and you’ve never tried oatmeal outside of breakfast and cookies, I really suggest you give it a try! It’s simple and fast, and it’s an amazing cold weather soup. It’s totally something I’d cook on a snow day, if we had those here!

Postscript (added January 17, 2013)A good friend of mine who is vegan suggested that non-flavored almond milk would be a good substitute for the milk in this recipe. So if you’re keen on making Quaker soup the vegan way and want to maintain that creamy consistency, you might give that a try. Thanks, Sarah!



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  • http://yamaamaa.wordpress.com Mama B

    YUM! And Bravo. I can’t cook… I mean I tried many times and it’s just not something I can do. So I am always fascinated by people who can figure recipes out or don’t need an exact guide to do stuff. I once had to cook for the kids in London and meals consisted of me making macaroni and cheese for them, then putting a plate of diced carrots, cucumbers and other veggies and saying if you eat those you can have this! (the mac and cheese). They were SOOOO happy when I found a housekeeper who would cook. Maaaaaybe if I hadn’t found someone quick enough I would have learned how to cook but it just never happened.

    • http://www.thesamerainbowsend.com nicole j. hunter mostafa

      thanks! although mac and cheese, carrots, cucumbers, and other veggies sounds like a pretty fabulous meal! 😉

  • http://www.facebook.com/lisa.quraish Lisa Quraish

    The conversation this post sparked went as so:

    Me: “Komail, does your mom make Quaker soup? You know, like, soup with oatmeal?”
    Komail: “All the time! When she was here for Ramadan you ate it every night. You know, with chicken and lamb…?”
    Me: “What!? But I don’t like oatmeal!!!!!!!!”

    • http://www.thesamerainbowsend.com nicole j. hunter mostafa

      yes, yes you do! you just like it saudi-style! 😉

  • http://www.facebook.com/lisa.quraish Lisa Quraish

    I know they don’t drink tap water in Saudi Arabia, but do they even use bottled water for cooking? I couldn’t imagine….

    • http://www.thesamerainbowsend.com nicole j. hunter mostafa

      yep, bottled water gets used for anything that is consumed. well, actually, we buy jugs of water for cooking. sometimes if i am boiling something that will get drained (like pasta) i will use tap water, but i hate doing it and i only do that when we’re out of water jugs!

  • http://musingsfrommiami.wordpress.com permuyy

    And here I thought Majed’s hot sauce obsession was just him. Now I bring him special green hot sauce when I go to Guate.

    • http://www.thesamerainbowsend.com nicole j. hunter mostafa

      oh, no. it’s a saudi thing, man. too much hot sauce hurts saleh’s stomach, so it’s just tabasco for him…but i know if it didn’t, he’d be requesting special green hot sauce from guate, as well! :)

  • http://zawjathani.blogspot.ca/ Um Eliana

    Lovely! It was one of my first Saudi recipes too! I remember when my husband first told me about it I was like “Savory oatmeal soup… weird?” and then I had some and now I make it at least once a week! It’s perfect for cold Canadian winters. I’m going to try it your way this time around…

    • http://www.thesamerainbowsend.com nicole j. hunter mostafa

      let me know how it turns out! :)

      • http://zawjathani.blogspot.ca/ Um Eliana

        We never made it with milk, but it’s great! Thanks!!

        • http://www.thesamerainbowsend.com nicole j. hunter mostafa

          i’m glad you liked it! :)

  • http://newmuslimwife.blogspot.com newmuslimwife

    My bff is from Riyadh and her mom use to make me oatmeal soup any time I fasted because mashaAllah she is super awesome. She always started with a couple chunks of lamb and she processed the oats in the food processor with tomatoes before cooking them. Also, she didn’t use so much milk… I don’t know if she used any milk actually.

    I think Quaker soup is like kabsa, everyone has their own version <3 Yours looks so yummy!

    • http://www.thesamerainbowsend.com nicole j. hunter mostafa

      definitely, there are about a kajillion ways to make quaker soup! my way is quick and simple. my mother-in-law doesn’t use milk, either. like you said, there are ways to make it with tomatoes instead of tomato paste, with different types of meat, etc. saleh insists on using real tomatoes in kabsa, but i guess he likes the tomato paste version of quaker soup just fine, so we’ll stick with that for now! :)

      • http://newmuslimwife.blogspot.com newmuslimwife

        I tried your way with milk and mashaAllah it is yummmmmyyyyy. I used a larger amount of tomato sauce instead of tomato paste because we didn’t have any and I food-processed the onion and quaker for a more “fine” texture since the dude doesn’t really like chunky soups.

        Thanks for sharing Nicole!!!

        • http://www.thesamerainbowsend.com nicole j. hunter mostafa

          i’m so glad you liked it! my guy doesn’t really like super-thick soups either (unlike me), so when i make it for him i tend to cut back on the oatmeal. :) also, one thing i’ve noticed that i probably should have mentioned is that the quaker here in ksa is smaller than the stuff sold in the states…certainly not food-processed fine or anything like that, but there is definitely a difference. you can tell that the quaker here is made more for soups than for breakfast. :)

  • http://gravatar.com/babymuslimah Princess Jannah

    My Saudi always comes home with all this wonderful food during Ramadan and this soup was one. It took me a while to explain to my Saudi girl friend what it was I was talking about so she could show me how to make it. I have yet to make it without meat in it but i think I will try. I will also try out your recipe as it seems a little easier the the one she gave me! It really is delicious. As i am battleing a cold maybe i will make some tonight! And all you ladies are right about hotsauce, food does not go into Suli’s mouth unless it has been glazed in it! I do think salt is on the list of ingredients Saudi food must have too. Suli always says my food is missing something lol I say yeah, salt! I’ve never used it in anything until I met him :)