Hyderabad’s Famous Haleem Is A Big Draw During Ramzan
Image Credit: Haleem | Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

During the holy month of Ramadan, when people break their fast, the favorite dish of the majority is the biryani. But in Hyderabad, one dish gives a stiff fight to the biryani, in taste as well as popularity - haleem. This lip-smacking stew of meat, lentils and wheat cooked with an assortment of spices has its origins originated in Arab lands. While it is a common starter dish at weddings, celebrations and other social occasions in Hyderabad, Haleem still remains something of an exotic dish in most places outside this city. 

Traditional haleem is very nutritious as it helps maintain blood circulation in the body and is considered to be an Iftar (the evening meal that breaks the day-long fast) staple, but did you know how it arrived in India? 

The Story of How haleem Came to India  

Haleem is thought to be based on an Arabian dish called Harees or Jareesh which can be traced back to cookbooks from the tenth century when it was served to Baghdad's royalty, kings, and lords.  

This meaty delicacy traveled to India, in particular to the territories where the Nizam sultans ruled, with the Arabic soldiers in the Sultans' army. The dish that is sold in areas in Hyderabad still bears a strong resemblance to Harees. 

Legend also has it that Sultan Saif Nawaz Jung, a descendant of the Al-Qu'aiti dynasty of Yemen, who was a prominent noble of the Nizams' court, would serve haleem at dinner parties and made it popular there. 

Haleem soon became a much sought-after food item in Hyderabad after a wave of settlers from Arabia and Persia moved in. The modern version has been tweaked to cater to the palates of the localities. Garam masala plays a significant part in haleem's cooking, while the rest of the ingredients pretty much remain the same.  

Traditional Process of Making haleem

haleem is made by mashing the meat in a stew and serving it with flatbreads or alone. The original haleem, perhaps an ancient Iranian dish, was made from wheat, meat, cinnamon, and sugar. It is popular in Iran even today.  

The Indian version of haleem is traditionally made in 'Bhattis' or brick-and-mud ovens during the holy month of Ramadan. Not every chef can prepare this delicacy. Only those well versed in the elaborate preparation and cooking processes can put together a haleem worthy of the Hyderabadi palate. It is prepared in large vessels cemented on traditional ovens and can take anywhere between 10 and 12 hours to cook. The process entails pounding the meat in vessels with large wooden poles and cooking this pounded meat on firewood.  

The process begins with first soaking the wheat and lentils overnight and boiling them till they become soft. Then the meats are cooked with spices to form a gravy or 'qorma'. Next, this gravy is added to the boiled wheat-lentil mix in a huge vessel and pounded with long wooden paddles or ‘ghotnis’ to form a smooth paste. Once prepared, haleem is served by squeezing lemons on it and with fried onions.

Haleem is usually made with wheat, barley, meat, spices, and many types of lentils. In addition to pounded meat, shredded chicken is now finding its way into various haleem recipes. Traditional haleem is made using different red meats, but those who find red meat difficult to digest can try chicken haleem. For vegetarians, we now also have the vegetarian haleem. 

What separates a good haleem is the texture and taste. Perfect haleem is like ‘soul food’ that is soft and has a porridge-like consistency. To get that consistency, it must be cooked for hours until it has a 'stretchable' quality (like mozzarella cheese) which comes with a blend of dals, wheat, meat, and spices slow-cooked for a long time. One way to verify if your haleem is perfectly cooked is to check for smooth, pudding-like texture that it not gluey. The flavor of depends on personal preference. Traditional Arabic harissa is usually bland while a traditional Iranian haleem is flavorful yet subtle.  

Every year, Hyderabad marks the end of the day’s fast during Ramzan by having haleem with its multicultural population. During the month-long fast, this protein-rich dish provides a perfect blend of nutrients to replenish the body after sundown. Restaurants like Pista House, Paradise, Sarvi, and Bawarchiare popular with the locals of Hyderabad as places to go if you want to have an authentic experience.