Never tasted the mouth-watering marvel that is Haleem? You have been missing out on a pivotal life experience. In Hyderabad, haleem and biryani are considered iconic dishes. Yes, you’ve heard of biryani, but haleem may not be a part of your culinary vocabulary yet. This slow-cooked miracle was the very first non-vegetarian food item that was bestowed with the Geographical Indication Status. So if you have not discovered haleem, it is about time.
Making of Haleem
Though an integral part of the socio-cultural fabric of Hyderabad, haleem is not native to this city. It packs a punch when it comes to both nutrition and calories, which is why haleem is the chosen dish to break the Ramadan fast. If collective experience is to be believed, once you’ve tasted this Hyderabadi specialty, you won’t ever forget it. Choice cuts of rich Mughlai mutton are pulverised and stewed with wheat and lentils to make a wholesome dish that has a mozzarella-like consistency. Made primarily during Ramadan, large pots of haleem require two people just to keep stirring while the dish cooks to perfection. Once done, it is topped with a spicy soup, fried cashews, lemon wedges, and ghee-roasted onions.
Where it come from
Historians believe haleem has a royal heritage. Invented by the Arabs in 10th Century, haleem is known as harees there. According to the Arab historian Abu Muhammad al-Muzaffar ibn Sayyar, the dish was highly popular among the who’s who of yesteryear’s Baghdad including sultans, caliphs, and leaders. Talk about a royal palate. It was Sultan Said Nawaz Jung who brought the haleem to India from erstwhile Yemen. He was one of the nobles at the Nizam state and is believed to have popularised the delicacy by introducing it as an Arabic delight at the royal dinners he threw in Hyderabad.
Arabic and Persian cuisines tend to use a lot of garam masala, though no chillies or tamarind. Hyderabadis, on the other hand, love to add a ball of imli to pretty much every savoury dish they cook. Surprisingly, haleem did not suffer the same assimilation. In fact, if ancient recipes are to be believed, the process of slow cooking the haleem has pretty much remained unchanged over the centuries. With no red chilli or tangy tamarind, this dish relies on whole spices and ground mutton to deliver its iconic taste.
Many versions of haleem
The city that boasts 40 different versions of biryani couldn’t possibly serve just one type of haleem, could it? Broadly divided, Hyderabadi haleem falls into two main types—one with many kinds of lentils, the other with just wheat, spices, and barley added to the meat. While both are traditional versions, a number of new varieties have been added to suit the palates of people of all religions. So you will also find shredded chicken haleem, fish haleem, and even a vegetarian one. Today, the haleem made at Hyderabad is exported back to where it originated from—Saudi Arabia, as well as other countries like Malaysia, Singapore, and Dubai city. While the khichda and haleem do have their similarities, trust me when I say that the haleem is unlike anything you’ve eaten before. Khichda is common enough with larger chunks of meat and dal. But haleem just melts in your mouth—you won’t be able to tell the dal and the mutton apart. And it does not really matter because haleem kickstarts a royal celebration in your mouth.