A culinary history of Haleem

A dish named after me!¬† Haleem is also a famous dish (my parents didn’t know till they named me ūüôĀ¬† )



click here for a recipe

As haleem mania is on in full swing, TOI digs into its origins to discover what is it that makes this Hyderabadi dish so special.

There is an inherent paradox about the famed Hyderabadi haleem. Traditionally, the holy month of Ramzan is all about abstinence from material pleasures. But on the other hand, it’s also celebration of age-old traditions, community bonding and most importantly, good cuisine. During this time of the month, at dusk everyday, every street is filled with delectable aromas of haleem, biryani, kebabs, naharis, paya and the works. And haleem is easily the top favourite. Had it not been for Sultan Saif Nawaz Jung, this wholesome stew might never have earned the cult following it
enjoys today.

Royal origins
City-based historian Sajjad Shahid, says, “It was Sultan Saif Nawaz Jung who popularized the haleem. A ruler of a small principality in Hadhramaut, (erstwhile¬†Yemen), Saif Nawaz Jung was a descendant of the Al-Qu’aiti dynasty and was one of the principal nobles of the Nizam state. He used to serve haleem, an Arabic specialty in the dinners he hosted.”

Traditional cooking method
It would be fair to say that the haleem came along with the Arabs and Persians settlers to Hyderabad. They married into the local population which resulted in the merging of two cuisines. One of the most remarkable things about the haleem is that the original cooking method has not been changed. “Haleem is the only Hyderabadi dish which doesn’t have any mirchi or imli, which is a distinct Telangana influence on the Deccani cuisine. Also, Arabs used more aromatic spices (garam masala) in their food,” says Bilkees Latif, author of many cookbooks.

Harees came first
Apparently, the city’s Irani¬†hotels¬†first started serving harees to the public. Harees, a culinary variant of the haleem was popular initially. In those days, during Ramzan, hotels used to cover the entrances with curtains as a mark of courtesy for the people fasting outside. The first time haleem was served in a hotel however, was in the early 50s.

The variations
There are principally two variations of haleem traditionally, as far as the ingredients go. “In one variety, there is just wheat, barley and spices along with the meat. The second variety uses three to four varieties of lentils as well. Now to cater to the cholesterol-conscious, Chicken haleem is prepared. Traditionally, the meat would be ground into a fine paste, but these days commercial stalls leave shreds of meat so that the customers know that they are not being taken for a ride.

Well, these days we also have hotels serving vegetarian haleem and fish haleem as well, but the connoisseurs still swear by the mutton version.

The Arabs eat haleem as the main course, but the Hyderabadis eat it as a starter.

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