When pondering over the richness of history and tradition, I cannot help but question if what I am reading is entirely accurate. If perhaps the truth was at some point altered so that our biases today stand somewhat unjust and unsubstantiated. To then elaborate one would have to think that the least altered sources of the past would be those related to food. Why? Because the proof is in the pudding. The evidence and consequence of traditions carried forward over generations is right there simmering away on your stove top to be later devoured by you and your kin.
We seldom think about the historic relevance of a recipe mid-meal. About how the same methods, ingredients and accents have been used over generations, time and time again. Mothers and fathers passing along their culinary wisdom to their children unconditionally so that they may feed themselves well and always be healthy. Everyone has the mental notebook of fragments from their kitchen growing up. The meals and eccentric eatables that only your family made in those particular ways. Mom’s endeavor to make “Chinese” fried rice. Dad making his amazing Chicken Karhai for me and later watching Amitabh Bachchan’s movies back to back when I had sprained my ankle. Our maid Noor Jehan making fried eggs and parathas for sehri. Me trying to make my parents breakfast because I had woken up that crack of dawn on a weekend morning. I had really just wanted to wake them up and so I made them burnt scrambled eggs, muddy water tea and cold, refridgerated toast. The offering was not well received.
My point being if humanity is just one big happy family, what would the family recipe book look like? What would the ancient yellowed pages of generation upon generation of man say of eras of ample resourcefulness and an abundance of ingredients or then the frugality of empty pantries and desperate measures?
I imagine that if I turned open the book and went to the first recipe; most certainly the title would read:
Wheat, lentils, meat and spices. The salt of the earth. You can literally imagine the first civilized family sitting down to this meal. It is a tradition of epic proportions with hundreds of practiced variations to it. Over the ages it has been prepared and served as a celebratory staple at weddings, religious holidays and festivals, and is traditionally made to be served amass. The recipe is implemented in its various forms in numerous countries seemingly in a belt which leads to the notion that Arabs took the recipe to India when they went there for trade in the 7th century as they traveled across the silk route. As it blended into the Indian culture certain ethnicities pushed forward its evolution into Haleem so that you find both forms prepared by master craftsmen carrying family recipes over generations so that they are famous for their brand of this savory meat stew.
The approach to cooking Harees is one that you would associate with any ancient recipe. It is cooked slowly, for long hours and requires a lot of elbow grease as you churn and take turns with the process so the ingredients don’t burn.
That is of course in theory. As is the case with almost everything nowadays, by sacrificing some of the extraordinary flavor and wholesomeness of the original, you can just as easily create a speedier version in an hour or two. I do realize that for those of you out there who do microwave meals, an hour or two might as well be the whole day*.
We at Bun Kabab salute your bravery hot pocket aficionado, for volunteering to be a crash test dummy for apocalyptic food corps who grow bolder in setting lower the standards of what constitutes being a called a food “product”.
I cannot even begin to describe the immense satisfaction this meal extends to your body and soul. It is happiness and wholesomeness. Chewy oats, lentils, velvety slow cooked meat and well thought out garnishes like julienned ginger, green chilies, garlic and crisp fried onions for textural contrast. All of this does not make a pretty plate, however if you look into the details at the various layers of insane flavor and hearty ingredients; it is simply a rustic masterpiece.
So here we go:
1 k/g of meat – I do veal personally, but beef strips, chicken (can be done boneless –or cooked on the bone and then taken out prior to serving for more flavor). I have never heard of fish being used. Yea, I would stay away from fish on this one.
½ cup each of assorted lentils: channa dal (split chickpeas), masoor dal (red lentils),mung and mash beans.
1 cup of coarsely ground wheat/ 1 cup of oats
These are the basic ingredients that you will need to make most forms of Harees including Haleem and Khichda. One can imagine Harees as the fore bearer of the offspring and Haleem as the somewhat sophisticated younger brother to the older, cruder simpleton that is Khichda which is a more rustic preparation.
We are going to equip you with the knowledge to prepare all three versions. The idea is cooking the ingredients until they are all blended together into a meaty porridge like consistency. For the Harees:
Tradionally cubed boneless lamb or lamb veal is the meat used for Harees, and the wheat is soaked overnight. Place the lamb, harees (wheat), Ghee and fill the pot ¾ of the way full with water and cook on a low fire for approximately 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Skim the froth. Blend the mixture by hand or using a food processor/emulsion mixer until a smooth paste results. Melt the about 50g of Ghee and add 1 tablespoon of cumin and salt and pepper to taste.
Here’s where the sugar can come in as Harees is prepared as either a savoury or a sweet meal. If you prefer and it is what you are used to, add a tablespoon of sugar and cinnamon to the melting ghee as well. We see this in a lot of Arab preparations. Pour the mixture on top of the lamb and harees paste and serve. The surface is usually covered with more cinnamon, sugar and Ghee. The Armenian preparation (Hareesa) is more of a porridge with a runnier consistency while the Arab version has virtually no visible water content. Additional Ingredients: Ghee / Cinnamon / Cumin / Salt / Pepper / Sugar
Soak the dals and wheat for about 3 hours or so. Add ground and dried whole red chillies, turmeric, garlic, ginger, salt/pepper to the ghee and stir until a base has formed. Add meat, and fry on high heat for about 5-8 minutes. Add the wheat, oats and dals, with 8 cups of water. You can always add more water later if needed. Once the desired consistency is reached and the meat is succulent, heat some oil or ghee and fry up some onions, red/ green chilies, garlic and coriander leaves in a pan.Let fry a little and then pour it over the Khichra. This is called a tadka, a sort of hot oil tempering which is also used when making dal. Additional Ingredients: Ginger / Cinnamon / Black pepper/ cardamom / Cumin / Salt / Pepper/ Dried red & fresh green chilies / Garam Masala / 1 onion / Coriander / Lemon / Ghee (clarified butter)
Soak the dals, oats and wheat and marinate the meat with garlic, ginger,cumin and green chillies for about an hour.Follow the same steps and spice blend as the Khichra.
To reduce the amount of cooking time you might want to incorporate a pressure cooker and cook the wheat,dals and meat for about 45 minutes.Add the additional spices and then use an emulsion mixer to bring the haleem to the desired texture which is finer and pastier with no chunkage. Apply the tarka. At this point the haleem should be cooked until you see the oil separate, and the haleem does not stick to the sides of the pot.
Added garnishes of lemon juice and chat masala, and julienned ginger are always more than welcome.
Haleem and family are cures for moody blue, chilly days when you need the heat and spice to rejuvenate your soul and bring you back to life. Needless to say it is packed with protein and saturated fat some of which can be avoided during the cooking process. Yes we are talking about the Ghee. So savor it and reminisce of a time when the end product of a cooked meal was also reflective of the time, love and passion invested into it. How communities gather together to cook together even in todays day and age, so that the effect of the meals served to rich and poor is more than the composite sum of it’s parts. As long as we can all live and love and share meals together we’ll be ok. Rapture or no rapture.