Nothing says Ramzan like Haleem does and while it not be the only and most exquisite of the dishes summing up a generous Iftar spread, it still is the quintessential element of this yearly observation of one particular religion. Interestingly though, the tradition behind its curation as the star dish is not so resplendent in spiritual symbolism as it is in more worldly, nutritious assertions of also a delicious identity.
Of course this aspect of its attending in terms of taste and flavor means that Haleem is by uchno means an indulgence of only a specific eking. The wafts of its arising might be inextricably weaved into the greater Muslim expression, as an essential part of their religious as well as cultural expression. But Haleem’s definite domination of the Iftar spread is rooted in the essence of it being a very wholesome, nutritious dish that is in itself a complete meal to indulge in after each daylong period of fasting.
The making of the dish is one painstaking process of prepping and cooking, it being its slow cooked characteristic that ensures that the flavours all assimilate together and shine through as a composite medley through this long period of stewing upon the fire. The main ingredients are wheat, meat and lentils- each of which occur as foods that are the richest sources of protein. Add to this the as essential flavorings of everything from ghee and spices to dry fruits and milk and jaggery or even eggs and/or additional meat summing up this generous cauldron of hearty taste and Haleem easily trumps the other elements of as gorgeous gastronomic character that finds lavish expression every dusk throughout the holy month of Ramadan.
Such an assertion of taste makes also Haleem a celebratory food that is prepared on special occasions. In weddings and festivals where it is most certainly served, the appeal of the dish asserts as such that makes it pretty much the ultimate crowd puller. That even when Haleem would most fancilessly assume identity as being a porridge in essence only speaks of the dish being so incredible to be named in fact after Allah Himself.
And yet this account in naming something edible after the very God while being an undebated, issueless way of indulgence as well as reverence along the longer stretch of history, has suddenly come to find such probing of propriety or otherwise that the dish now courts a dual identity. Interestingly, this development in regards to the exclusive almost delicacy that Haleem is has been one of an entirely Indian context. Tweaked then by a single letter to incorporate most assertively the dal quotient of the dish, it is daleem therefore that has partly taken over this identity in a region of the world that while might not be the exact place of its origin but is notable in its own endowing of a specifiness to this essentially Arab arising.
In India where Haleem made its way through the Arab soldiers of the Hyderabadi Nizam’s army sometime between the 18th to the 20th centuries, the localisation of the dish has acquired such fame that has led it to court also an as distinctive identity. Hyderabadi Haleem is widely acclaimed as one of the best preparations of this anyway rich dish, steeped as it is even further in a unique combination of regional spices and flavors. In fact so popular has been this version of the traditional dish that bit has come to be embedded as an identifying element itself of the culture of Hyderabad. It has been a recognition indeed of such significance that Hyderabadi Haleem was tagged in 2010 as a GI food, notable also in its gaining such status as the first non-vegetarian dish in the country.
Such account in fame is something earned through much hard work indeed since every preparation of the dish is a process demanding enough for it to specifically occur as a special serving. A standout assertion in both flavor and texture- none of which would come to be so celebrated a character of Haleem without this essential hardwork put in, this soul food of sorts is delivering of a deliciousness that is unlike anything ‘ordinarily’ tasty. What ensues out of the hours long mode of much method and meticulousness in making this meaty meal of moreishness is an experience of the gastronomic fulfilling enough to almost grant one an awareness of the divine.
The beauty of Haleem lies in the uniformity of its ingredients and the way they are led to maintain a consistency of what curates an experience of its eating that is comforting indeed in the easy yet hearty nature of its being. Stirring the Haleem at regular intervals of time as a ritual almost in attending, and with an intensity that lends it a characteristic ‘stretchy’ quality which is not what strikes instantly and quite apparently upon its tasting as spoonfuls of melt-in-the-mouth deliciousness. But allow the complex flavors of it to find full expression in every morsel of what you feed your soul with and the ultimate realisation will dawn upon your every sense as to why and how Haleem manages to beat even the most gourmet of preparations with its traditional, ‘heavy’ charm.
It all boils down to the fineness almost of the key ingredients that the Haleem is constantly stirred and the wheat and the meat and the lentils are pounded thus for the flavor of each to seamlessly fuse with the other. The end assertion then is one of immense drama in bringing together such flavors markedly different from the other but affording such coherence in its slurping and savoring that occurs as just the most pleasant tasting ‘gruel’ there ever can be.
Such referring to this food of divine denotations both in regard to what it evokes and does isn’t just an attribute derived out of its textural precept. For all its richness of a sinful amounting in indulgence, Haleem turns out to be one of the best foods to break a fast as rigorous as what devout Muslims undertake in their belief of it being one of the Five Pillars of Islam. And that’s precisely the reason why every Ramadan the streets of Hyderabad are redolent in the irresistible offering of a delicacy that courts as compelling a popularity even in countless plates of international serving.
The very name Haleem speaks of being rooted in humble modesty and while it might be such interpretations in spirituality that might make the preparation emerge as one of nourishing, nurturing properties, the physicality of such claims would not be any disputed. Outside its profusion in the proteins, the dish is also rich in carbohydrates and essential fatty acids, specifically the Indian version of it that incorporates also the tremendous goodness of ghee in its every morsel. The addition of the spices impart another range of benefits as does the dry fruits that render upon it a quality of even desired palatability.
An instant energiser therefore that is high also in the nutritional count, with the supreme assertion of taste ruling throughout this healthy looking dish of filling as well as feeding, Haleem beams also in a certain convenience. Even in its considerable call for accuracy and exertion in cooking, this is but a one-pot dish that is complete in itself. Essentially then, Haleem can very well be the only dish that you would need to even stave off an entire day’s worth of willing forsaking of nutrition. Of course that’s rarely the case of it all boiling down to a single dish specially as part of the Iftar spread that is always more than generous in its curation. But that one standalone serving of this flavorful identity is enough to sustain the spirit of the religious and stir the realisation of gratitude is what makes Haleem a special indulgence specific to this blessed time of the year.
Whether one chooses to appreciate then the wholesomeness of this dish in its every ingredient or compliments even further the flavors of its creating by lapping up its richness with some naan or roti or even chooses to pair it as a curry for rice, the brilliance of the dish never fails to amaze. Haleem is also versatile in the range of its ingredients, with pretty much every type of meat managing to infuse their own flavors in this identity of heartiness. The authentic Hyderabadi preparation is one obviously speaking in the southern spices of Telangana even as the lentils are swapped for some barley instead to tend closer to the traditional type of the Arabic character.
Curiously adapted as well to suit the vegetarians and vegans of the world by somehow overriding its very essence as a meat dish and yet managing to retain the defining character would be the vegetarian haleem of as culinary as colloquial prominence. Peculiar then- or perhaps not would be versions made with fish or egg or even paneer but what would be by far the most extreme type of its preparation is one particular meetha Haleem that is characteristic again a cooking done in a certain area of Hyderabad itself. In the neighborhood called Barkas where the Arab settlers dwell, the sweet version of the dish that is often indulged in is greatly representative of the original preparation called Harees out of which the more modern day Haleem came to be.
For all its stark prevailing in a sweeter stance, even this version of the dish is as meaty as any other! The meat and wheat assert still as the base of this less spicy variant, with other flavoring agents also considerably done away with, so that the sweet taste dominates in this preparation smacking of a very unique flavor. Also otherwise would be the time of the day when the meetha Haleem is consumed, almost exclusively as a hearty and yet easy to digest breakfast dish lending also a sweet start to the day.
For all its courting thus the attributes of versatility, the popularity of Haleem plays through its particularity in bearing a ‘limited time label’, the sumptuous taste of which lingers on the tongue for the entire yearlong period of anticipating another tasting of the flavors. It would be an account in such exclusiveness out of which the global craving for this essentially celebratory yet as ‘somber’ preparation grows and gallops and gains such mileage to make it the ultimate of all foods to cherish to one’s heart content when the period of its availability ultimately dawns in and as a Godly indeed manner of an appreciation for the immensely flavorful world of an immersive existence.