Haleem – A Delicious Hodgepodge:
In South Asia celebrating Eid without Haleem is like celebrating Christmas without Turkey or the Fourth of July without fireworks. Why ? Because it’s one of those iconic dishes that represent the cultural evolution and foreign influences on the eating habits and tastes of a people. This rich, wholesome and delicious hodgepodge didn’t originate in Hyderabad. It goes back to Arabia. Hyderabadis owe their love for this festive delicacy to the Arabians soldiers who introduced it to the Nizams of Hyderabad. Mehbub Ali Khan, the sixth Nizam of the then Hyderabad Princely State, added the Arabian dish to the royal menu. Then, Nawaz Jung Bahadur, an Arab chief from Yemen and a courtier in the regime of Mir Osman Ali Khan, popularized Haleem as an authentic flavor of the city. Gradually, with a blend of local spices and ingredients, haleem evolved into a dish which is different from the Arabian recipe. Despite some regional differences in recipe, it always includes meat, lentils and wheat/barley or rice. It’s full of nutrition as a combination of wheat, lentils and meat is loaded with fiber and protein.
What Goes Into The Melting Pot Of Haleem:
The original haleem that was cooked in the royal kitchen of the Nizams of Hyderabad had a whole long list of rich and exotic ingredients. Many restaurants, still try to religiously follow that list and the complicated ritual associated with cooking haleem that was passed on to them by their forefathers perhaps. They added semolina, instead of durum wheat, the root of beetle, dried ginger, rose petals and yogurt besides many spices. The tempering included nuts and dried fruits as well. As the popularity of haleem spread outside Hyderabad, many local ingredients replaced some of the most exotic ones and the list got short. The haleem popular today is a healthy and lot less rich mix of lentils, broken wheat, meat of your choice and garam masala blend. That’s how the recipe reached me through my grandmother and mother. I still remember my mom properly planning a night before whenever she needed to cook haleem. She soaked the broken wheat and lentils a night before. The meat was cooked separately with spices, shredded and then mixed with other ingredients. The whole thing was then mashed up with a big wooden masher using loads of elbow grease. To this day many people believe that’s the only way to cooking good haleem.
My Shortcut To Perfect Haleem:
Haleem is one of my most favorite of festive mains. My husband and I have always been very fond of cooking for family and friends and having dinner parties at our place, be it Eid, Christmas, New Year or simply Summer break. Years back , when I was teaching at a private school and had a toddler of my own, I created many short cuts to the traditional recipes that require lengthy preparation. If you are using a pressure cooker instead of a deep pan, haleem will be ready within an hour. If you don’t use a pressure cooker, this one-pot recipe shall still be totally hassle-free and will require no prior prep. This recipe is different from the traditional recipe of Haleem in execution but outcome is exactly the same. Remember quick cooking doesn’t have to be bad cooking.
Dos & Don’ts Of Cooking Haleem:
- Cooking successful Haleem is all about the correct ratio of ingredients and how well you blend them together. Usually we find Haleem with either the lentils overpowering the meat or chunks of meat and grains of lentils not well blended to the right consistency. This recipe gives you a formula for perfect Haleem, every time you cook it!
- No soaking the broken wheat overnight as this recipe uses quick cooking oats that I add right at the end. They don’t require a whole lot of mashing up either. In fact, the little texture they add gives haleem a more traditional taste.
- The mix of lentils, instead of just one, gives haleem a better taste and binding texture. Don’t leave haleem too watery or soupy because then it doesn’t bind together as it should.
- Don’t skip tarka or tempered oil and garnishing because they are an essential part of the overall falvour. Tarka with desi ghee and caramelized onions, and fresh garnish of ginger, green chilli peppers, mint, coriander and lemon wedges completes the true blue haleem experience.
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1 kg boneless chicken OR boneless mutton or beef
2 cups split chickpea lentils (channa daal)
1 cup yellow lentils (mung daal)
1 cup red lentils (masoor daal)
2 medium onions, chopped
2 teaspoon salt or to taste
2 teaspoon red chilli powder
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
3 teaspoon garam masala ( ground mix of cinnamon, black cardamoms, green cardamoms, black pepper corn, cumin seeds, cloves)
1 cup quick cooking wheat/barley oats
4 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons vegetable oil or ghee
Green chilli peppers, ginger and lemon wedges for garnishing
This Is What You Do:
- Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a deep pan on medium heat, fry one chopped onion till golden brown.
- Add boneless chicken/mutton or beef and fry another 2-3 minutes. Stir in the lentils, salt, red chilli powder, turmeric, coriander and garam masala.
- Add enough water (about 4 cups for chicken, 7-8 cups for red meat) to cover all the ingredients, cover the pan and reduce heat. Cook till the meat and lentils are really tender. Reduce water sufficiently (35-40 minutes for chicken, 60-90 minutes for red meat).
- If using pressure cooker, it will take 15-20 minutes for chicken. 45 minutes for red meat.
- Turn off the heat, let the stew cool down, pour into food processor and blend in short bursts, just enough so that the mixture retains some texture and doesn’t change into a smooth glue-like paste.
- Pour the mixture back into the pan. If its too thick add some more water and stir in quick cooking wheat or barley oats. Cover the pan and simmer on low heat for 7-8 minutes or till the porridge gets starchy and binds together all the other ingredients.
- Add lemon juice.
- Pour 2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or oil in a small frying pan, caramelize a chopped onion. Pour over Haleem and garnish with julienne cut ginger, finely chopped green chili peppers and lemon wedges. Serve hot with nan bread or dig in with a spoon.