Haleem, sometimes dubbed the king of curries, is a thick, porridge like curry with variations all over the middle east and south/central Asia. In India, the dish is most closely associated with the Hyderabad state, where it is consumed en masse during Ramadan (because of high-protein, slow-burning nature) and on special occasions, particularly weddings.
Oh, and it's probably one of the best slow-cooked dishes in India. That "king of curry" tag isn't a slick marketing term.
But it didn't have the most glorious of origins. Haleem is said to have originated as a beggar's dish. The beggar would go door to door, accepting whatever grains or meats the house could spare. They would then cook it up with enough spices until it was edible.
I first fell in love with haleem in the same was that many Sydneysiders do-at Faheem's Fast Food in Enmore. Since that first bite, haleem has become one of the few dishes that I actually feel withdrawal symptoms for.
Faheem's remained one of the only places that I could get a hit of it. At least until last week, when I went to an Indian work colleague's place after work on the promise of homemade haleem. And I'm not sure if it was because of the beer consumed beforehand, but his version of haleem gave Faheem's a very serious run for it's money. It was more robustly spiced, cooked for longer. It was, in a word, amazing.
And when I got the recipe off him, I shook with delight, like a twitchy ice fiend that had been given the recipe for the magical powder.
Bondi Junction is not the best place to get authentic Indian ingredients, so I made a few substitutions. The version I ended up with was also utterly fantastic.
- 1 very large pot with lid
- 1 medium sized pot with lid
- 1 saucepan
- 1 stickblender or a food processor with a large capacity.
Ingredients: (for around 12 serves)
- 1 cup channa dal (split chick peas) (I used yellow split peas)
- 1/2 cup masoor dal (red lentils)
- 1/2 cup moong dal (split mung beans) (I used green lentils)
- 1/2 cup mash/urad dal (I used pearl barley)
- 1/4 cup basmati rice
- 1/2 cup rolled barley (or rolled oats)
- 1/2 cup cracked wheat/burghul
- 1/2 kilo of diced beef
- 2 bulbs of garlic
- 2 finger sized pieces of garlic
- 1 tub of ghee
- 6 curry leaves (or around 12 if dried)
- 20 cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 12 cardamom pods
- 2 tablespoons of black peppercorns
- 3 tablespoons of cumin seeds
- 2 tablespoons of salt
- 2 tablespoons of chilli powder
- 4 onions
- Mint leaves to garnish
- Coriander leaves to garnish
- Fried shallots to garnish (you can get these in the Asian section of the supermarket)
- Lemon juice to garnish
Yes, there are a lot of ingredients, but it's not that hard to make. Out of 37 I would rate this as 8 difficult.
Method: (not including the overnight soaking, will take around 8 hours to cook)
- The night before you're making your haleem, soak all of your dals in plenty of water. This will speed up the cooking process on the day.
- Start the day by rinsing all of the lentils (except the red lentils and mash dal/pearl barley), putting them in the larger pot and covering them with around 8 litres of water.
- Cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally and topping up with water if needed.
- Add the red lentils, mash dal and rice. Top up with water if needed. Add a good pinch of salt. Cook for another hour.
- Skim off any froth that forms on the top.
- As soon as your add the last of the lentils, put the oven at around 200o.
- Wrap the 2 garlic heads individually in foil and put them in the oven.
- On a baking tray covered with foil or baking paper, put the curry leaves, cloves, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, black peppercorns and cumin seeds. Roast for around 5 minutes until fragrant.
- Using the blender or a spice grinder, grind up the contents of the tray. This is your garam masala mix.
- Slice 2 onions in half moon, and finely grate 1 of the ginger fingers, making sure to get any juice that comes out.
- In the other pot, add 3 big tablespoons of ghee and sweat down 2 sliced onions.
- Once the onions have cooked down a bit (but not picked up any colour) add the beef and stir.
- Add the grated ginger and stir.
- Remove the garlic head from the oven, take a thin slice off the base of the bulb and hopefully you should be able to squeeze out the roasted garlic inside. Add that to the beef and onion pot.
- Add the 2 tablespoons of salt and 2 tablespoons of chilli powder.
- Add around 4 cups of water, cover and set the heat to low. Check occasionally to sir and top up with water if needed, it should resemble a wet curry when finished.
- Back to the lentil pot and add the rolled oats/barley and cracked wheat/burghul. Add more water if needed.
- Stir until it takes on a porridge consistency. Turn off the heat.
- Using the hand mixer or food processor, puree the contents of the pot and leave aside.
- When the beef is cooked and is falling apart, either remove the beef from the pot and shred or use a masher and mash the contents of the pot, breaking up the beef.
- Add the contents of this pot to the large pot filled with lentils.
- Stir well to combine.
- Slice the remaining 2 onions in half moon shape.
- In a saucepan, add 2 big spoons of ghee then fry the onions until crispy. Set the onions aside on some paper towel for serving later, but keep as much of the ghee as possible.
- Add this ghee to the large pot and stir to combine.
- While the haleem is now effectively done, it will benefit by a few more hours cooking.
- When you're ready to eat the haleem, spoon into a bowl and garnish with the onions fried earlier, some fried shallots, a few mint leaves, a few coriander leaves, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and some finely sliced ginger (from the other piece of ginger we have). You can also add some sliced green chilli if you like, but it should have a nice amount of heat as it is.
And there you have it. Haleem.
It's not a hard recipe, but it is time consuming and requires some forward planning. But if you do make the effort then you will be richly rewarded, for this is a truly breathtaking dish.