This blog post germinated last year during the month of Ramazan. No, this post is not about eating the delicacies in Mumbai at Minara Masjid or the trendier Bohri Mohalla. You can read all about that in newspapers and magazines as well as watch it on TV with some vapid host speaking weirdly accented English.
This is about Haleem, Khichda and Hareesa, three dishes using the same ingredients yet so different in final result. This is about our effort to find and eat an authentic version of Haleem.
These dishes are specially cooked during Ramzan as they are highly nutritious. Haleem, Khichda and Hareesa are Arabic in origin and it is believed that the Arab diaspora in Hyderabad first made these dishes in India. In India, high calorie is almost a synonym of nutrition. All three dishes are actually both high calorie and high nutrition. All three dishes are not suited to cooking in small quantities and therefore they are most often cooked for a large gathering and because the making process is so laborious, they are most often cooked by professional cooks. Each aspect dovetails into the other. Cooking in large quantities, cooking for many people and lastly cooking a high calorie nourishing meal during Ramzan to feed the fasting faithful,
What exactly are Haleem, Khichda and Hareesa? I asked my Bohri friends, of whom I have several. What became clear was that the lines distinguishing Haleem and Khichda are fairly thin, however Hareesa stands apart. What is common in all three is the fact that they have 2 basic ingredients, lamb and wheat.
Haleem has an additional 2 ingredients, ghee and spices. Everything is cooked together in a massive pot over a wood fire for several hours. Large wooden poles are used to stir and pound the mixture to break down the meat and the wheat so that the resulting finished product is a thick viscous porridge. With this stirring/pounding the meat loses all integrity and blends with the wheat. Haleem is spiced and is eaten garnished with caramelised onion [Birista], fresh mint and coriander leaves. Lime is added to give some tang and freshness. Some people make Haleem at home in small quantities by cooking the meat and wheat in a pressure cooker. Once cooked the mixture is either put into a blender by the already harassed housewife, or, she uses a stick blender to break down the meat. I assure you that the resulting Haleem is nothing like the slow cooked pounded Haleem made by professional chefs.
Khichda on the other hand is a non vegetarian version of Khichdi which many of us were fed as children when sick or when we had an upset stomach. Why Khichdi? Same answer, nutritious and with lashings of ghee you get a higher calorie count. Anyway, Khichda, in addition to the meat and wheat has lentils [Chana Daal primarily] added. It’s a relatively simpler dish to make, I am told, because the meat is supposed to stay by and large whole at the end of the cooking process. Therefore there is no need to keep stirring the pot to break down the meat. It’s still not a regular home-cooking dish.
Hareesa is somewhat different. This is almost soupy in consistency as opposed to the porridge like Khichda and Haleem, and is most often made with lamb trotters [Paya]. The reason for this is fairly simple. Hareesa started off as a dish more suited to the poor. The use of trotters which is not a prime cut is a clear indication. The trotter gives the soup a lot of body on account of the cartilage which when broken down will provide the gelatinous quality to the soup. Hareesa is rather bland but is nutritious and very high in protein and carbohydrates. It seems to have become the preferred option during Ramzan.
Last year, we attempted to buy some Haleem. The absolute best, pinnacle of Haleem is made in Hyderabad by a restaurant called Pista House. You may have seen it on the now obligatory Ramazan Idd celebrations programmes on TV. The Hotel Shah Ghouse and Sarvi Bakers also at Hyderabad both make Haleem during Ramzan. Since we was not going to Hyderabad, the chances of getting the Haleem here in Bombay were bleak.
So we set about telephoning the Muslim restaurants we have in Bombay. Delhi Durbar, Jafferbhais Delhi Durbar, Shalimar at Bhendi Bazar, Persian Durbar and some others, which I cannot remember. None had Haleem on offer. Jafferbhais Delhi Durbar had Hareesa on offer. Shalimar told me that they had Khichda and that Khichda and Haleem were one and the same. Not true of course, but all the same I went to Shalimar and bought their Khichda. Not bad, nothing unusual. I had no intention of buying Hareesa so that chapter was closed.
This year, we once again called the restaurants and the answer was the same. Only Jafferbhais Delhi Durbar said that they made Khichda every Wednesday and Saturday. So off we went and bought some Khichda. Once again not bad, nothing unusual. It was of better quality than the Shalimar Khichda.
Then, a few days ago, everything changed. India has a new President, a new Finance Minister and a new Home Minister. This build up may sound a bit filmy and I will not apologise, but wonder of wonders, it appeared that the Hyderabad institution, Pista House had tied up with GATI [big transport and logistics guys] to deliver freshly cooked Haleem to Bombay. I promptly ordered a kilo and after a couple of days of total silence, I got a confirmatory email and at 10pm the courier arrived with my Haleem. Since we had already eaten our dinner, I put the pail into the fridge and decided we would eat it the next day. I must say was brilliantly packed. To really get into the spirit of things, we got a few Mutton Samosas and Cream Tikka from Jeffs a famous Bohri caterer who also sells delicious food. We thought we ould eat this as a snack with our drinks before getting down to the Haleem.
Once I opened the plastic pail the aroma that hit me was, to use the word in vogue today, awesome. HRH the Queen of Kutch, with her regal nose, smelt ghee. I had made some Birista, HRH the Queen picked some mint from the garden and I set about heating the Haleem. On first impressions, it had a large proportion of meat to the wheat. It also had some bones and lots of whole spices [predominantly Black Pepper & Cardamom] and some slit green chillies. It smelt even better as it heated. As far as consistency goes, it was extremely viscous, as the Marathi word aptly describes `Chikat’. The meat was in shreds, literally shreds, not chunks, pieces but shreds, quite unlike I have ever seen anywhere. Once heated I garnished the bowl and it was time to eat, it was the moment of truth.
|As it was being heated|
HRH the Queen of Kutch absolutely loved it; she was in the proverbial Seventh Heaven. I was not so sure. And as I type a day later I am still not so sure. How did it taste? It was pungent with all the whole spices – Garam Masala – in it. It was not chilli hot but Garam Masala hot, if you know what I mean. The consistency was really nice and everything [except the bones] had amalgamated beautifully. There was no greasiness which is something I was worried about. My problem was that the Haleem has only whole spices. Therefore, to me, the dish lacked flavour. I prefer the Khichda that Jafferbhais Delhi Durbar sells, to me its seems to have a deeper flavour, but the Pista House Haleem definitely had much more meat and the texture was totally different. The Haleem was not bad by any stretch of imagination. In fact I am glad I have tasted it. I now know what it is all about and why our Muslim brethren get misty eyed when they talk about Haleem. I am also absolutely sure that we do not get anything like the Pista House Haleem locally in Mumbai.
My suggestion, Haleem from Pista House is a classic dish. You get it during Ramzan. Ramzan Idd is fast approaching. Please do yourself a favour and order a Kilo by going to this site. It costs only Rs 485/- it’s not a lot of money. One kilo is good for 3 heavy eaters. Do order a kilo very very soon, right now. You cannot lose, you cannot dislike it, it’s a classic dish and here you have an opportunity of getting it home delivered. Just do it.