Arabian porridge across borders

Food Nilanjan Hajra
Eat-Well
Arabian porridge
Harees - old dish probably originated in Saudi Arabia, but has since spread throughout the entire Middle East and India. Photo : Dreamstime

When we speak of iconic foods that have conquered taste-buds across the world we mostly speak of noodles, pasta, sandwiches, burgers, pulao, even kedgeree. Rarely, however, is porridge included in such a list. Yet a medieval Arabian porridge can challenge each of the items mentioned above in terms of geographical and cultural reach. It’s Harees aka Harisa. Today it is basically a porridge made of coarsely ground wheat and pounded meat boiled and mashed with spices.

There can be no doubt the origin of this Arabian porridge in the Arab World. Medieval cookbooks from various countries including Iraq, Andalusian Spain, and India prove that the international spread of Harees happened through Islamic culinary culture.

HAREES: AN ARABIC FOOD

The name Harees or Harisa comes from the Arabic verb ‘Harasa’, which means to pound, mash or squash. The oldest surviving Arabic cookbook Kitab al-Tabikh collated in the 10th century mentions the dish as Harisa several times. Not only that, the author of the book Ibn Sayyar al-Warrak quotes a complete poem on Harisa! And Abu al-Abbas al-Abid (Died 906 CE), one of the most celebrated poems of his times, wrote the poem. “Like the shining constellations in the sky it puts all other dishes to shame,” goes a line of the poem. What can be a greater or better testimony of the popularity of this Arabian porridge?! Kitab al-Tabikh mentions five varieties of Harisa. Out of these three are made with crushed rice, and two with wheat.

It is impossible to pin point the period during which this Arabian porridge dish was invented. But its eloquent mention by al-Warrak proves that at least a thousand years ago the Arabic aristocracy considered it a delicacy.

MODERN AND MEDIEVAL RECIPES OF ARABIAN PORRIDGE

HARISA: KITAB AL-TABIKH (10TH CENTURY)

Ingredients

Fatty chicken 1

Olive / Sesame oil ½ Cup

White portion of 8 slices of bread very finely shredded

Milk 2 Litres

Salt to taste

Soy Sauce for sefving

METHOD

Grill the chicken in an oven until golden. Put a drip tray underneath the grilling chicken to collect the fat drippings. Shred the flesh of the chicken. Pour the oil into a pot and add the shredded chicken. Pour enough water and boil until the water almost totally evaporates. Add the shredded bread. Mix it well with the boiled chicken.

In a separate pan pour the fat collected in the drip-tray. Add the mixed chicken and bread mash. Put it on a stove and keep adding the milk little by little until all the milk is absorbed. And the Arabian porridge becomes thick in consistency.

Serve with Soy Sauce (Originally a medieval sauce named Murri is mentioned, which according to many food historians tasted somewhat like soy sauce)

ARABIAN PORRIDGE MUTTON HAREES (MODERN)

INGREDIENTS

Whole wheat – 2 cups Goat meat (boneless) – 750 kg Black pepper – ½ tea spoon- Kali mirch powder Salt – To taste Whole black pepper – 1 Table spoon Cinnamon – 3 pcs Garlic – 10 cloves Olive oil – ¼ Cup Water – As required

METHOD

Soak the wheat in water overnight.

Boil meat, Salt, cinnamon, garlic cloves in sufficient water in a pressure cooker. For 20 minutes. Shred the boiled meat. Strain the meat-stock. Put it back in pressure cooker along with whole wheat. Add boiled meat in it along with water and boil for 20 minutes. Take out and boil in an open pot until the water almost evaporates. Add the black pepper. Keep stirring for 15 minutes on low heat.

Take out the thick meat and wheat mix and blend it well in a hand blender with a little bit of olive oil. Serve drizzling a little more olive oil.

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