Hooked on Haleem (or maybe Khichda)?

DSC_0349Almost around the time when the sun is preparing to call it a day, fires will be lit up and gigantic aluminum cauldrons will be placed on the flame. It’s an all-male business on the sidewalks of Park Circus, Calcutta during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Soon, the cauldrons will be filled with soaked wheat and three to four different kinds of lentils, to be cooked together for hours. Men of different ages with their sleeves rolled up will be seen for the next several hours engaging in variety of cooking acts that resemble workouts, from stirring the pots with huge ladles as tall as themselves to cutting up mountains of meat into bite-sized pieces. Every time I passed by those simmering cauldrons, my nostrils were filled with mixed aroma of meat, aromatic spices and lentils. In separate cauldrons, at least ten different spices could be seen being thrown in to cook a korma which would later that evening be mixed with the simmering wheat and lentil stew and then simmered overnight to prepare the final product called haleem.

DSC_0450Although Hyderabad is the most famous place for its haleem, Calcutta haleem has its own fan followers too (including my husband who traveled all over the city hunting down the best vendors). Different versions of haleem are eaten in Pakistan, the Middle East and in Bangladesh. The Bohras of Gujarat call it khichda, which although very similar version to haleem is less spicy. Another haleem derivative is harees, a meat-and-wheat stew cooked with aromatic spices eaten in Middle eastern countries. The Arabic word halem/halim means gentle, forbearing, patient and slow to anger. I have never seen a food named so correctly. It requires lots and lots of patience to cook. You cannot even pound the meat like an angry person; you have to be slow and patient. 

DSC_0321Haleem was traditionally eaten during the month of Ramadan (ninth month of Islamic calendar when Muslims meticulously fast from sunrise to sunset), but now you can buy it all winter long in many of the Muslim restaurants In Calcutta. It is believed that during the rule of the Nizams in Hyderabad, it was mainly a food for royals and their nobles. But over the centuries, haleem became a food for everybody and a symbol of sharing and community togetherness during the time of hardship and sacrifice. In hindsight, this trend towards culinary egalitarianism is not surprising, as even ordinary families could afford to buy the small amount of meat needed to cook haleem, compared to the extravagance of, say for example, sikandari raan.

HaleemAs this was the first time I made haleem, I took the traditional approach of mashing the wheat and lentil mixture with a ‘daal ghotni’(wooden stirrer) but if you have a hand blender, go right ahead and use it. But remember, preparing haleem needs time and patience (although the results are well worth the effort). It can be eaten both as a main meal or as breakfast; an added bonus is that it freezes very well.

Recipe:

Ingredients:

Goat meat or mutton: 1 lb/500grms. cut into bite sized pieces (with bones)

Haleem wheat (sold in the Indian/Pakistani groceries): ¾ cup

¼ cup each of mung (yellow lentils), masoor (orange/red lentils), chana (split Bengal gram lentil) and urad (split black gram lentil) daal.

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Tomato: One medium, chopped

Onion: one medium, finely chopped

Ginger: 2 inch piece, grated

Garlic: 3 big clove, mashed

Or,

Ginger-garlic paste: 2 tbsp.

Red chili powder: one tbsp.. or more if you like your haleem to be spicy

Green chilies: 3-5 nos.

Turmeric: 3 tsp.

Oil: 2 tbsp.

Garam masala: 2 tsp.

Cumin powder: 1 tbsp.

Coriander powder: 1 tbsp.

Cumin seeds: ½ tbsp..

Clarified butter or ghee: 2 tbsp.

Water: 8 cups (more or less depending on the consistency you want)

Salt to taste

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To garnish:

Handful of cilantro finely chopped

Green chilies: few, finely chopped

Roasted cumin and coriander powder: few tbsp.

Beresta/fried onions: around a cup

Lemon wedges: one per person minimum

·         Wash the haleem wheat and soak them the previous night in ample water.

·         Soak the daal separately in enough water for 3-4 hours the next day.

·         Put a big stock pot on the stove top and fill it with around 4 cups of water. Cover it with a lid and let it come to a boil.

·         Add the haleem wheat (drain them before) and let it come to a boil again. Once it comes to a boil, put the flame on medium, add one teaspoon of turmeric and let the wheat get cooked.

·         Put a separate container with another 4 cups of water and let it come to a boil. Once boiling, add all the daal (drain them before adding). Let it come to a boil again. Once it comes to a boil, add one teaspoon of turmeric and put the flame on medium and let the daals get cooked.

OR,

·         Put the wheat and the daals with two tea spoons of turmeric and 6-8 cups of water in a pressure cooker and cook for two whistles. Let the pressure release naturally.

 

·         Heat up oil in a separate deep bottom kadai or wok. Once hot, add the onions and sauté them until translucent. Do not brown the onions.

·         Add the meat to the kadai and keep stirring them to get rid of the moisture in the meat.

·         Add the ginger-garlic, green chili, red chili powder, one teaspoon of turmeric and tomato and keep cooking. The entire thing will come together and the spice will coat the meat very well. Keep cooking until oil leaves the spice paste.

·         Add salt, garam masala and cumin coriander powder. Cook for 5-10 more minutes and then add around a cup of boiling water to the meat. If you know that your meat releases a lot of water, add ½ cup water.

·         Transfer the meat to a pressure cooker and cook it to one whistle. Let the steam come off naturally.

·         Open the lid and taste for seasoning and see if the meat is properly cooked or not.

·         Take the meats out of the gravy and let them cool down so that you can handle it. Pull the meat out of the bones and separate the muscles/threads with your fingers.

·         Discard the bones and put the meat back to the gravy.

·         If you do not have a pressure cooker, you can use the same pot and cook it covered until the meat is cooked. It will take longer.

·         Keep stirring the daals and the wheat with the wooden stirrer or a regular ladle. Keep mashing the daals. It will reach a creamy thick consistency.

·         Once the daal and the meat is ready, mix everything together. Let it cool down a little bit so that it’s safe to handle  and then with a hand held blender (or any blender you have), blend everything in small batches.

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Tadka (optional):

·         Once everything is nicely mixed and comes to a consistency you want, turn the heat to low and let it cook for 5-10 more minutes.

·         Heat up the ghee in a separate pot/pan and add the whole cumin seeds. Let it come to a shade darker and then add the ghee and the cumin seeds on the haleem and cover immediately with a lid. Let the spices infuse the haleem for few more minutes.

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Serving suggestion:

The haleem tastes incomplete without the garnish, so please don’t skip them.

While serving, add a little bit of the garnishing ingredients on the top of the haleem except the lemon. Sprinkle a generous amount of lemon and eat. Or, you can put the haleem with the garnishing ingredients on the side. People can add it according to their taste.

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 Beresta or fried onions:

  • Slice a red onion very finely in semi circles.
  • Heat up enough oil in a deep bottom pot to deep fry the onions.
  • Once the oil is hot, put the flame to medium high. Do not keep it smoking hot, the onions will burn immediately.
  • Separate the rings and put a small batch on onion in the hot oil.
  • Stir continuously and cook it until they are brown. Do not wait until they are deep brown. The onions will reach a shade darker after you pull them out of the oil.
  • Put them on an absorbent paper to soak the excess oil.
  • Fry the whole onion like this.
  • The fried onion stays well in an airtight container for several days to weeks.
  • If you are feeling lazy to fry them, buy them pre-fried or just add raw onions.
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The paradise and its cuisine: Marzwangan korma/Lamb with Kashmiri red chillies

DSC_0147Like an emerald pendant on a pearl-studded necklace, the green valley of Kashmir is surrounded by the snow-covered mighty Himalayas. Apart from its breathtakingly pretty landscapes, Kashmir has many other remarkable attractions such as friendly people, excellent pashmina shawls, the world’s best saffron and a mouthwateringly unique cuisine. Unfortunately, except for Kashmiri dum aloo (stuffed potatoes coked in gravy) or rogan josh (meat cooked with aromatic spices), the treasures of Kashmiri cuisine are largely unknown in the rest of India – I have no clue why though.

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Maybe through a combination of its topographical detachment (a valley surrounded on all sides by very high mountains) and demography (two different religions with contrasting food habits), the Valley of Kashmir developed its own and very distinctive cuisine. Hindu Kashmiris are primarily Brahmins (the priestly class, also known as Kashmiri Pandits) and do not eat onions and garlic (as these tamasic ingredients are supposed to awaken the baser emotions of lust, anger and passion). Although meat and fish is abhorred by Brahmins in most parts of India (in keeping with the age-old tradition of vegetarianism in Hinduism), Kashmiri (and Bengali Brahmins) found their way to keep meat and fish as part of their diet.

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However, unlike the other chicken-loving non-vegetarians of North India, Kashmiri Pandits prefer lamb as their primary meat source (beef of course is strictly prohibited). Two distinct styles of cooking meat have evolved in Kashmir, one being a richly colored red gravy flavored with fennel and Kashmiri chilies (among other spices) while the other is yakhni, a thin, lightly spiced, whitish yogurt-based gravy. Contrary to the Muslim cooking style where onions and garlic are used in abundance, Kashmiri Pandits use hing/asafetida as a substitute for adding that extra layer of flavor to their non-vegetarian dishes that cannot come from the meat alone. Indeed, this constitutes the hallmark difference between the cuisines of Hindu and Muslim Kashmir.

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Marzwangan korma is a dish which is cooked with very few ingredients, but all of them are very aromatic. My husband says it smells like a subtle perfume (in a good way, unlike some foods which smell overpoweringly of rosewater or cinnamon). The moment you start cooking this dish, the kitchen will fill with a complex and enticing mix of smells. This is one of my favorite meat recipes as it doesn’t require any long marinades or grinding of ginger and garlic. Don’t be fooled by the fiery red color, it’s not half as spicy as it looks. The beautiful color comes from the bright red Kashmiri chili powder. Like the part of our planet that it comes from, it may appear violent but it is actually quite peace-loving 😉

Recipe: (Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey)

Find a similar Bengali meat curry here.

Ingredients:

Bone in lamb/goat meat, cut into 11/2 inch cubes: 3 lbs.

Red chili/Cayenne powder: ½-1 tsp.

Kashmiri chili powder/paprika: 1-3 tbsp.

Asafetida: 1/3 tsp. (optional)

Ground fennel seeds: 1 tsp.

Turmeric powder: ½ tsp.

Tamarind: one small walnut sized ball

Ground ginger/ginger powder: ½ tsp.

Vegetable/mustard oil: 4-5 tbsp.

Cinnamon sticks (preferably the Indian variety): 11/2 inches

Cardamom pods (green): 3 whole

Cloves: 3-4 nos.

Salt to taste

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  • Soak the tamarind ball in warm water for 15-20 minutes. Longer won’t hurt.
  • Heat up half the oil and once hot, add the cinnamons, cardamoms and the cloves.
  • Once you get the nice aroma, add the meat pieces. Sauté the meat pieces well (until few  brown spots appear)
  • Add three cups warm water to the meat and bring it to a boil.
  • Cover the pot and let the meat cook on medium heat.
  • Once the meat is 2/3 cooked, strain the meat and reserve the stock.
  • In a small bowl mix the red chili powder, Kashmiri chili powder, turmeric, ginger powder and fennel powder with a little bit of water to make a smooth paste.
  • Heat up rest of the oil on medium heat and add the asafetida.
  • Few seconds later add the spice paste to the oil as well.
  • Squeeze the tamarind ball to make a paste. Discard any pulp or seed. Add the tamarind paste to the spice paste.
  • Sauté the spice mix until oil starts leaving the pan.
  • Add the meat and mix everything very well.  .
  • Cook for another five minutes or so and then add the stock to the meat.
  • Bring to a boil and cook it until the meat is completely cooked and the gravy reaches its desired consistency.
  • Serve with plain rice and with a simple green vegetable.

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Durga puja palon pnepe-mangsho diye/celebrating Durga puja with mutton cooked with papaya

I grew up in a family which was best described as middle class tending to lower middle class. In fact the only thing that qualified us as belonging to the GIMC (Great Indian Middle Class) was that my father had a government job with Indian Railways. Even so, sometimes we had a hard time making ends meet. Throughout my childhood and my growing up years, eating meat was a luxury. My father is a foodie and believes in quality than quantity. He used to buy the best fish or meat that was within his budget. I still remember that when I was a kid, every Saturday (my father’s day off) he used to buy 250 grams of chicken. We were allowed a fixed amount during lunch. When my brother was born and I grew up, the amount went up to 500 grams and that’s it. I loved a piece of kosha mangsho (meat cooked without adding water) before maa added water to the meat. I can still hear the warning “ekhon ek piece kheye niley dupure kintu ek piece kawm pabey” (if you eat one piece now, you’ll get one piece less for lunch). I agreed but everytime my maa would sacrifice her piece and give it to me.

Times have changed and I can eat meat everyday for all three meals if I want to. The irony is I lost the appetite for meat. I hardly crave for it anymore. Occasionally I would crave for a particular type of meat but that’s pretty rare.

My husband was from a comfortable middle class family (although I like to tease him and say upper middle class) and never saw any such crises. But his life of comfort too changed when his parents sent him to a Hindu missionary school when he was 10 years old. Needless to say, the food wasn’t great and the amounts were limited. So, on special days when they used to get meat, they would be jumping up and down in anticipation. On some days if they were lucky enough, they used to get the pnepe (papaya) which was left at the bottom of the serving bowl. It was more precious than the meat. It had absorbed all the flavors of the gravy. Time has changed for him too. He doesn’t crave for meat anymore as well. Once in a while he will ask for a patla mangsher jhol (a light mutton curry with watery gravy) and we both like it. I came up with a mangsher jhol recipe based entirely on experimentation. I make it with a light touch and add papaya and peppercorn to it. The papaya makes the meat meltingly tender and allows my husband to get over the trauma of the boy next to him getting the only piece in the bucket and not sharing with him (at boarding school). In this way, this recipe is a connection between my husband’s childhood and mine, so naturally it’s very special to us. Usually, we both overeat whenever I make this.

Bengalis will be celebrating Durga Puja for the next few days and it’s a celebration of the victory of Good over Evil. In the midst of your revelry, stop and spare a thought for those who will lie hungry on a hard pavement while the madding crowds around them indulge and preen.

Ingredients:

Pnepe/papaya: 1 small (grate the papaya to make 2 tbsp. paste)

Mutton with bone: 2 lbs.

Potato: 2 medium, cut into 4 pieces

Peppercorn (whole): 1 tbsp.

Turmeric powder: 1 tsp.

Bay leaf: 2 nos.

Cardamom: 2-3 nos.

Cinnamon: 3″ (broken into smaller pieces)

Cloves: 4-5 nos.

Tomato: 1 medium, chopped

Onion: one large, cut into half ring thin slices

Ginger-garlic paste: 2 tbsp

Red chili powder: 1 tsp.

Green chili: 3-5 nos.

Oil: 3 tbsp. (use 1 tbsp. to marinate the meat)

Water: As needed

Garam masala powder: 1 tsp.

Salt to taste

How to cook:

  • Wash and clean the meat. Drain as much water as possible. Add turmeric powder, ginger-garlic-red chili powder paste, mustard oil, grated papaya and mix them very well. Marinate overnight or minimum 4-6 hours. Take the meat out of the refrigerator (if marinating overnight) and let it come to almost room temperature. Mix few times while it comes to room temparature.
  • Peel and cut the papaya into big cubes and then wash them.
  • Cut the potatoes in half if they are medium. Cut them into four if they are big.
  • Heat up the oil in a pressure cooker. Add the bay leaves, peppercorn and the whole garam masala (cardamom, cinnamon and cloves). Sauté them for a while unless they start to release a nice aroma.
  • Add the sliced onion and let them sweat a little bit. You don’t have to cook them for long.
  • Follows the chopped tomato. Cook it until the tomatoes look mushy.
  • Add the meat and cook it for several minutes until all the liquid is absorbed.
  • Add the potato and cubed papaya and cook it for few more minutes.
  • Add lukewarm water and salt and mix them well.
  • Close the lid of the pressure cooker and put the weight on.
  • Put it on medium flame and wait for one whistle.
  • Let the pressure release by itself. The meat should be cooked by now. If not, you can cook it a little more (probably you don’t have to).
  • Add 3-4 green chilis and garam masala paste (make a paste of the powder with a little bit of water). Mix gently and cover the cooker for few minutes so that the flavor can marry together.
  • Serve it hot with steaming hot rice.
  • I like it sometimes with a wedge of lime but it’s your choice.

The color of the meat in the picture is a little deceptive. The oil and the chili powder are floating on the top and it looks red. The moment you stir it, it looks much lighter. It is not half as rich as regular Bengali mutton curry. Go easy on oil, the masalas and specially the red chili powder. The heat should come from the green chilis.

The mutton should be melt in the mouth. The papain (the digestive enzyme found in papaya) is a natural meat tenderizer and digests/breaks down the meat protein even before you start cooking it.

If you do not have a pressure cooker, don’t worry, you can do the whole cooking in a regular deep bottom pot or kadai. Keep the pot/kadai covered while the meat is cooking. Only it will take longer.

Trivia: Papaya was not a native Indian vegetable; it was introduced by the Portuguese.