The first time I heard about Haleem was from a friend who had visited Hyderabad for a wedding, at the function he chanced upon Haleem and couldn’t move past it. Through the evening, he stuffed himself with so many bowls of Haleem, that the much popular Hyderabadi Biryani never got a chance to make it to his plate. I did not know much of Hyderabadi cuisine at the time, but for a dish to overshadow the iconic Hyderabadi Biryani in the city of Hyderabad, was shocking and awe-inspiring at the same time. My tryst with Haleem took place much later, and it was nothing as I imagined it to be. That is right.  For some reason I pictured Haleem to be like a wholesome dal infused with meat and spices. Instead, it turned out be a thick, rich, porridge-like preparation sedulously cooked with wheat, barley and meat chunks, topped with caramelized onions and coriander leaves.  It takes time and effort to get a perfect Haleem, and you would certainly enjoy it more if the pre-conceived notions are left behind.

From Harees To Haleem: The Journey of Haleem From Arabia To India   

Much like Biryani, Haleem also has its roots in the Middle-East. An Arabian dish Harees, is said to be the precursor of the Hyderabadi Haleem. References of Harees (also written as Jareesh) can be traced back to 10th century Arabic cookery books. It has been described by historians as a dish, that was served to Lords, kings and nobility of Baghdad. Harees made its way to the territory of Nizams via the Arabic soldiers of the Hyderabadi Nizam army. As a matter of fact, in parts of city, like Barkas, the dish is still sold as Jarees and bears many similarities to the original Harees. 

It is also said that Sultan Saif Nawaz Jung, a descendant of Al-Qu'aiti dynasty of present-day Yemen, who also happened to be one of the principal nobles of the court of Nizams, use to serve Haleem in dinners hosted by him.

The modern Haleem is said to be a modified version of Harees, that was made to suit the palate of the locals. But this marriage of flavours happened only after the city saw a slew of Arabic and Persian settlers. Traditionally, not much has changed in cooking styles, the Arabs also used a lot of spices, while in India, usage Garam masala is a significant feature of Haleem.   

Traditionally, Haleem is made with wheat, barley, meat and spices. Some varieties also use many kinds of lentils. Traditionally, meat was pounded, but shredded chicken is also making waves in newer versions. Those who think mutton Haleem is too heavy on their tummy, can go for chicken Haleem, which is also a fairly recent invention just like the idea of vegetarian Haleem.  

Here is an easy recipe of Haleem that you can try at home.