What’s your winter morning nostalgia made of? Mine is very simple – a thick blanket of soft snow, a kanger tucked under a pheran, and a steaming hot plate of hareesa, with lavase and nunchai.
What is hareesa, you ask? Well, first of all it is *not* harissa – the lovely North African hot chilli pepper paste, which I’ve come to love, in spite of my epic disappointment when years ago someone mentioned harissa and brought this tiny little pot out, but that’s another story.
It is also *not* Haleem – the spicy stew made with meat, lentils and grains that’s popular in the Indian subcontinent.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, here’s what Hareesa (harisse in Kashmiri) is : a slow cooked dish of lean meat (lamb, mostly) mixed with either rice, or the thin Kashmiri flat bread lavasaa, and delicately flavoured with just a few spices. It is what winter morning dreams are made of. The kind of breakfast that sets you up for a freezing snowy day. It may not look like much but it really is a thing of pure joy.
This is my mum’s recipe, but it’s fairly universal.
1 kilo lamb – any lean cut will do, usually the leg, with a bit of bone works well. (Traditionally a whole leg of lamb will be chopped up in to a few big chunks for this recipe. I used a kilo of boneless leg because, well, that’s what I had, and it turned out super anyway.)
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed.
3-4 shallots, sliced thinly.
2 small (Lebanese) khobez breads. These are very similar to the Kashmiri lavase flatbreads, so work quite well. You can use one cup of cooked rice instead of khobez, and that’ll make this recipe gluten free. I’ve even used a couple of slices of bread in a pinch. Not ideal, but not end of the world either.
Whole spices –
1 inch piece of cinnamon
4-5 pods of green cardamom
2 pods of black cardamom
2 teaspoons of fennel seeds
This is a fairly easy and straightforward recipe. It does call for patience, and some good old fashioned stirring muscles though.
First of all wash the meat, and put it in a (preferably deep, thick bottomed) pan. Add enough water to cover the meat, and a bit more, and the garlic and bring to boil. Cover, simmer and cook for the next one/ one and a half hours till the meat falls off the bones.
At this stage you want to separate the bones and the meat. I like to take the meat out, and then strain the stock to make sure I don’t miss any bones. Then return the meat to the pan with the stock.
Now add all your whole spices, and keep cooking on a medium-low flame. Add the bread, and bring it all back to the boil. Some folks like to soak the bread in a bit of water before adding it to the pan. Either way what you’re trying to do is make sure the bread sort of dissolves in to the meat/stock. Check for salt, and add some according to taste.
Now basically all you need to do is keep stirring, and grinding, and stirring till the hareesa gets to the right consistency. *Gass dyun* in Kashmiri. This is where you’ll benefit from the wonder that is the * choncha* – Kashmiri wooden cooking spoon – next level, folks!
Depending on your meat you might be stirring – not continuously, thank heavens – for the next hour or two. My dad has this fail proof test for whether the hareesa is done or not. So you try and pick a spoonful up and if you are able to do that without any strands of meat dangling off of your spoonful, then you’re done.
Once you’re done, all that’s left is the tempering. For this heat some oil in a frying pan and fry the shallots till they are almost black. Using a slotted spoon, take them out of the pan and keep aside.
In the same frying pan heat up a generous amount of oil till its almost boiling. Pour this oil, very carefully, all over the hareesa.
Poems have been written on the lovely crackling sound the oil makes as it hits the meat, or at least poems should be written on that utterly beautiful *tchhirr*. Ahem. Anyway, I digress.
Give everything a good stir, making sure the oil is all mixed up with the hareesa. Fry for a few minutes. Take off the flame, and scatter fried shallots on top.
Traditionally hareesa is served topped with fried seekh kebabs, along with Kashmiri bread and nun chai.
You’re allowed to skip the kebab. Ahem.