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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Dalcha/Curried lentils with lamb and it’s origin

I’ve only been to Hyderabad for a very short time but it still amazed me. It’s a very old city with a rich history and a mix of cultures. The city’s two major populations are very contrasting in nature, one being Telegu-speaking Hindus and the other Urdu-speaking Muslims. Although the majority of the people are Hindus, there is still a very significant Muslim population in the ‘old city’, a legacy of the long-standing Muslim dynasty that ruled over the erstwhile Hyderabad state until 1948.

DSC_0282During the medieval times, the Muslim rulers (originally from Samarkand in central Asia) were fascinated by the rich regional cuisine and couldn’t resist incorporating local dishes into their own cuisine. Being voraciously carnivorous, they modified recipes which were originally vegetarian to satiate their meat-loving taste buds. Dalcha, which falls right into this category, is a delicious concoction of meat and lentils cooked together. As the Muslims were familiar with red lentils (masoor daal) and split chickpeas (chana daal), they used these to make their dalcha, but essentially borrowed the recipe of a local delicacy called sambar (pigeon pea lentil soup with vegetables), of course adding meat which would be unthinkable in the original dish.

Another Muslim delicacy that I haven’t had the opportunity to taste is haleem, but people who’ve eaten my dalcha and also had haleem before, say that they taste similar. I am yet to try making haleem, hopefully soon I can convince myself that it’s doable and cook it. Dalcha is very rich and flavorful and eaten mostly with naan or any other Indian flat bread. I have made it both with goat meat/mutton and lamb and both tasted equally good. I have tried modifying it and instead of adding the traditional fried curry leaf tadka (seasoning), I added Bengali garam masala and ghee (Indian clarified butter) at the end. I must say the tadka makes a big difference in the taste. I liked both varities but the curry leaf tadka is the traditional one.

I am sending this recipe to My legume love affair 55 (MLLA55) from Susan’s The well seasoned-cook. I am so glad to announce that I was the proud winner of the last month’s MLLA54. I cannot express how happy I am as this the first award for my baby blog (only four months old).

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I have borrowed the recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s cookbook and attaching the recipe directly from her book.

Dalcha

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I realized that it might be a little difficult for some people to read it from the scanned page. In that case please see the written recipe below. The procedure might differ a little bit but it’s almost the same. I wrote the way I made it. Both will work.

Dalcha recipe:

Ingredients:

Red lentils/masoor daal: 1 ½ cups

Turmeric powder: ½ tsp

Vegetable oil: 4 tbsp

Cinnamon: 1 ½ inces.

Cardamom: 6 whole

Onion: 1 medium, cut into thin half sized

Lamb shoulder: ½ lb

Tamarind: 2 tbsp tamarind pulp or 3 tbsp lemon juice

Ginger grated: 1tsp

Garlic crushed/finely chopped: 1 tsp

Red chili powder/cayenne pepper: ½-1 tsp

Seasoning:

Ghee (Indian clarified butter)/vegetable oil: 2 tbsp

Whole cumin seeds: ½ tsp.

Dried red chili (whole): 1-2 nos.

Fresh curry leaves: 8-10 nos.

Garlic: 2 cloves, cut into thin slices (I didn’t use it in the seasoning)

 

  • Wash the lentils with several changes of water and then bring to a boil with around 3 cups of water. Add turmeric powder while boiling. Boil until the lentils are tender.
  • While the lentil is boiling, cook the meat. In a separate heavy bottom pot, add the cinnamon and the cardamom. Stir for few seconds until they release a nice aroma.
  • Add the sliced onions and sauté them until light brown.
  • Add the crushed ginger-garlic and the red chili powder/cayenne pepper.
  • Cook the spice mix on medium heat until oil oozes out from the spice.
  • Add the meat and cook it for few more minutes and coat the meat with the spices really well.
  • Add around ¾ cup of luke warm water, cover the pan and let the meat cook on medium flame (slightly covered).
  • Once the lentil is cooked, add salt, tamarind pulp and ½ tsp. of chili powder. Mash the lentils with a wooden stirrer or spoon well to make it smooth.
  • When the meat is tender, add the seasoned lentil and cook for few more minutes.
  • Heat up the ghee/oil (I used ghee), when hot, add the whole cumin seeds.
  • When the cumin seeds darken a bit brown, add the dry red chilis and the curry leaves.
  • After few seconds, add the sliced garlic and let them brown a little bit.
  • Pour the seasoning over the lentil-meat mixture and cover the pan.
  • You can add the seasoning right before serving the dish.