Sunday, December 03, 2006
A Party Piece - Haleem Goes Vegetarian
This is a party piece even when it’s non-vegetarian. Come Ramzan, and visitors to Hyderabad would be whisked off to the Old City to try the Haleem and other dishes that would make an appearance only that month, apart from the kababs and khubani ka meetha (stewed apricots with custard) that the city is so famous for.
Now Haleem seems to be available everywhere in the city – I visited last year during Ramzan and every restaurant big and small worth its name had banners advertising its availability. I even remember Hareesh (a dish, not a guy), but am not too sure what it was or even whether I tasted it.
However, in the after-life (life after Hyderabad, that is, this is no ghost writing this piece), most of my friends are vegetarian, and pulaos, fried rice and “variety rice” (that favourite Madrasi term for various flavoured rice dishes) soon pall as they are commonly found. I had just begun collecting cookbooks then, and was thrilled to find this dish which proved to be the delight of every get-together we had since. Sadly, though, work and different schedules ensured we couldn’t meet often, but as a ‘welcome back’ dish for someone who loved it but told me not to bother with it, it’s just right.
The basic recipe is from Rotis & Naans of India by Purobi Babbar (Vakils, Feffer and Simons, 1990) but I made a few changes based on what I found in my fridge. On to the recipe, then!
1 ½ cups broken wheat (I used coarse wheat rava)
4 tbsp red gram/toor daal/kandi pappu
2 tbsp green gram/moong dal/pesara pappu (the book suggested masoor daal)
2 tbsp split Bengal gram/channa daal/senaga pappu
100 gm altogether – peas, yellow pumpkin, and carrots, cut into pieces (the book suggested peas, cauliflower and brinjals)
2 capsicum/green bell pepper, cut
3 medium onions, sliced
8 cloves garlic and 2 tbsp grated ginger, ground to a paste
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tbsp curry powder/garam masala
1 tbsp coriander/dhania powder (the book suggested 1 tbsp each of coriander and cumin seeds ground to a fine paste)
2 level tsp salt
6 cups of water
8 tbsps of ghee or oil (I used my flavoured ghee)
1 onion, sliced and fried crisp
Coriander leaves/hara dhania/kothimeera, chopped
Soak wheat and dals separately overnight. Wash well. Drain and keep aside for 20 minutes.
Heat half the melted ghee or oil. Fry onions until brown. Stir in garlic, ginger paste, fry for a few minutes. Add coriander powder, turmeric, chilli, salt and add wheat and dal mixture. Stir well.
Pour in the water. Cover and cook slowly over low heat for one hour till the wheat is soft and pulpy and the daals are tender. Add vegetables. Stir well. When ready, add curry powder and the remaining ghee or oil.
Keep stirring often. Despite all my heroic, conscientious efforts, it did keep sticking to the bottom of the pan between the stirs. Cook over low heat even now, but without the lid until the ghee floats to the top and the colour turns golden.
Once you’ve transferred it into a serving bowl, sprinkle the fried onions and coriander on top. Serve hot with lemon slices, mint leaves and a simple salad of cucumber, onion and tomato.
Warning: This takes at least two hours to make and a tremendous amount of patience. You also need to be alert. This stew can splutter and burn your arms and fingers. The end result is worth it, but then, make sure you serve it in limited doses to those who shouldn’t be eating all that ghee or oil!
As I was finishing it off and reached for something in my shelf, I noticed my bottle of olive oil looking down at me. Given that most of the ingredients are also used in Mediterranean cuisine, this dish would have probably tasted as good but lighter with olive oil, if any of you try, don’t forget to drop me a line.
And to borrow what many of my vegetarian friends unfamiliar with paneer/mushroom/tofu would say: “I believe it tastes just like non-veg.” It does.
Tags: haleem vegetarian