Haleem, literally meaning patient and merciful (Daleem) is a stew popular in Middle East, Central Asia, and the Indian Subcontinent. Although its ingredients vary from region to region, it always includes wheat or barley, meat and sometimes lentils. Popular variations are Keskek in Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Northern Iraq. In the Arab world and Armenia it is Hareesa, Khichra in Pakistan and India. Lily traces the historicity of the Hyderabadi dish, popularised by the Nizams, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.
Sometimes tastes uncoil on your palate and sights linger in your mind’s eye, almost like the sound of music reverberates, I remember stopping in my tracks to look at huge cauldrons placed on food fired pits in the old city of Hyderabad in Telangana, India. There were serpentine queues of hungry people waiting their turn to gobble off the aromatic and nutritious fare hidden in that pot. It was the holy month of Ramadan for the Muslims and the fast Roza was to be broken with Iftar.
Traditionally, this month is for abstinence from material pleasures, but it is also a celebration of age old traditions, community bonding and to top it all, great cuisines. As dusk kisses the cheeks of the city, each street is fragrant with delectable aromas. Haleem is the favourite. History is witness to the fact that Sultan Saif Nawaz Jung gave this wholesome stew a cult following. The historian Sajjad Shahid says, “A ruler of a small principality in Hadhramaut (erstwhile Yemen), Saif Nawaz Jung was a descendent of the Al Qu’aiti dynasty and was one of the principal nobles of the Nizam states. He used to serve Haleem, an Arabic speciality in the dinners he hosted.” The Arabs and Persians married into the local population of Hyderabad but the most remarkable thing about Haleem is that the traditional method of cooking has not changed even a bit!
Bilkees Latif, the author of many cook books says, “Haleem is the only Hyderabadi dish that doesn’t have any Mirchi (red chilies) or imli (tamarind), which is a distinct Telengana influence on the Deccan cuisine. Also, Arabs used more aromatic spices in their food.”
Harees is the culinary variant of Haleem, which was popular initially, in the city’s Irani hotels. As a mark of courtesy to people fasting outside, during the month of Ramzan, hotels used to cover the entrances with curtains. Aga Hussain Zabed first served Haleem at Madina Hotel, in 1953, priced at 3 paisa then. Over a period of time, other Irani hotels like, Garden, Shadaab, Nayab, Citylight, Paradise, etc., started serving it during Ramzaan. Hakeem is now exported to Singapore, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Dubai. A special courier service transports it all over the world, now,
Two main variations of Haleem are traditionally popular. In one, there is wheat, barley and spices along with the meat. The other variety includes three to four varieties of lentils as well. Also chicken Haleem is being prepared for the cholesterol conscious and even though traditionally the meat was minced and added, now commercial stalls leave shreds of meat so that customers feel that they are not being fooled!
In the city of Hyderabad, Barkas is an area where there are many Arab settlers. They still serve a lesser known sweet Haleem (mithhi). This sweet variant is consumed at breakfast. Historians point out that Arabs eat Haleem as the main course but Hyderabadis eat it as a starter.
As I read up more about it I found out that Haleem, literally meaning patient and merciful (Daleem) is a stew popular in Middle East, Central Asia, and the Indian Subcontinent. Although its ingredients vary from region to region, it always includes wheat or barley, meat and sometimes lentils. Popular variations are Keskek in Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Northern Iraq. In the Arab world and Armenia it is Hareesa, Khichra in Pakistan and India.
Shoaib Daniyal says that the first written recipe of Harees, which is the precursor to Haleem, dates back to the 10th century. The Arab scribe Abu Muhammad al Muzaffar Ibn Sattar compiled a cook book of dishes popular with the Kings and Caliphs and Lords and Leaders of Baghdad. “The version described in his Kiran-al-tabikh (book of recipes), the world’s oldest surviving Arab cook book, is strikingly similar to the one people in the Middle East eat to this day,” it is stated.
The squeeze of lime, chopped mint leaves, coriander leaves, fried onions, chopped ginger root and green chillies both adorn it and enhance the taste. A steaming bowl at breakfast or at the end of a day of fasting is perhaps the most fulfilling and nourishing.
I will be eternally grateful to my daughter’s pretty friend Farah Kamal’s parents Anees and Kamaal Bhai for introducing me to its virtues.
Wishing all my friends all over the world a happy Ramadan and great munching at Iftar.
So long till next time!
Photos from the internet.
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