Haleem – a slow-cooked delicacy

Some time ago, we made Haleem our Chef’s special at Dishoom Covent Garden. Of course, we’d served it before in other forms, usually around Eid; and we were always touched by the reverence in which this traditional dish is held. Our Executive Chef-walla, Naved Nasir, explains why Haleem has found a home on our menu.

“I love to truly understand and appreciate the origins of a dish, and learn how communities have adapted a recipe overtime to make that dish unique to them.

I believe Haleem is so special because it has been around for so long, though its exact heritage is uncertain. It’s believed that this was originally an Arabic delicacy and was served for centuries in the royal palaces of Saudi Arabia. The story goes that it was first introduced to the Hyderabadi State in India by the Nizam rulers. They were known for eating a variety of rich foods, as their cooks used to prepare a variety of aromatic delicacies such as biryani, kababs and of course, haleem. It then slowly gained in popularity among the Hyderabadi community.“

Even today Hyderabad is famous for selling its ‘Hyderabadi Haleem’ – which has recognised geographical indication status – at places such as Pista House. They’re known for exporting internationally to places such as Dubai, and it’s not uncommon for Bollywood types to place an order when the craving hits them.

When I was a child, I remember first trying a dish similar to Haleem called Kichdha, another authentic Hyderabadi speciality. After the first mouthful I became addicted to it! It consists of lamb, lentils and wheat, but it differs in texture because you notice the visibility of each grain. The lamb was so succulent… it’s funny how the first taste of something can become a lasting memory.

The cooking process of Haleem is very lengthy, and it’s not easy to cook to perfection at home. For around 8 hours, we let the wheat, lamb and lentils simmer with precise quantities of coriander, turmeric, cumin and many other aromatic spices. Then the ingredients are pounded to intertwine and infuse the spices, release the flavour, and create a thick, smooth texture, almost a savoury porridge. The ginger, fried onions, and chillies provide a certain crunch and texture that compliments the consistency – and try dipping in our sesame-onion seed naan – aap ko pasand aiye ga (you’ll love it!)

Haleem is most special to me as a dish that brings people together – it’s commonly eaten at wedding celebrations, events and religious occasions such as Ramadan. You may have heard of Ashura, the tenth day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar – it commemorates the death of the grandson of Prophet Mohammad. To mark this occasion, in Mumbra, Dhongri and Mughal Masgid in Bombay, Haleem is cooked in large copper vessels on the roadsides and handed to everyone after the processions. It’s a simple gesture, but it creates a lovely spirit amongst the whole community.

At Dishoom, we want to continue this tradition of sharing the joy of Haleem. It has many rich, energising and nutritious ingredients, but it’s the love and care put into the making of the dish which creates the true flavour. And most of all I’m glad to see our guests – Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Parsis alike – enjoying this dish as it truly deserves to be enjoyed.”

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