When I need time to just ponder over life, when time seems to pass by in a flash (specially when you have a 1 year old), when I really just want to stop, breath and slow down, I cook my mom's haleem. The constant swirl movement of the ladle eases away my anxiety, lost in the hypnotic rhythm of stirring, the earthy wheat and lentils warm you up even before being consumed. That is the beauty of comfort foood.
This humble looking dish is made in many countries and have deep roots in the Arab world where it is believed to have originated (called harissa) and then spread to South Asia through colonisation. Muslims in India and the subcontinent usually make it during the the fasting month of Ramadan or the mourning month of Moharram as per Muslim Hijri calendar, as it is makes for a highly nourishing, fibre and protein rich meal. Bohras use the word haleem and khichra interchangeably and make a subtly spiced version compared to the spicier Hyderabadi haleem.
It is a perfect, soul warming, hearty winter dish. Cooked for a long time, the meat not only falls off the the bone, it mostly dissolves into the lentils and wheat. The result is a sticky rich and luscious porridge. It only gets better as it sits for a day or two, or perhaps it is my way of lingering on comfort for longer.
More involved a recipe than my usual preference these days but it is totally worth it. Pick up a weekend to make it, so that you can enjoy it for breakfast or lunch during the weekdays. If not eaten immediately and stored in the fridge, it will thicken up. Use water or milk to loosen it while heating. Also, don't skip on any of the garnish, it is incomplete without it.
400g pounded/ broken wheat or small variety of wheat berries
1/2 kg mutton/lamb or beef meat with bones
1 tbsp chana dal
1 tbsp urad dal
1 tbsp moong dal
1 tbsp garlic paste
1/2 tbsp ginger paste
1/2 tbsp green chili paste
1 cinnamon stick
1 tej patta
1/2 cup milk or as required
1 tsp roasted cumin powder
1 tsp garam masala
1/4 cup ghee
1 tsp cumin seeds
Chopped mint leaves
Garam masala to sprinkle
Wash the wheat and soak overnight in double the water.
Add all the ingredients to the wheat (along with the water) and pressure cook it for 1 1/2 hours.
After 1 1/2 hr, the wheat should have completely softened and the meat should fall of the bone. Remove the lid, keep cooking the mixture by continuously mashing the mixture for another half an hour and add milk as you do so. This creates the sticky lustrous quality that khichda is known for. It is important the the wheat completely disintegrates into the creamy mixture.
Alternatively, you can separate the meat, the grind the mixture in a processor and add back the meat later.
Finally, heat the ghee till smoking and add the cumin seeds. Drizzle the ghee on the khichda while serving.
Garnish with mint, ginger, sprinkle of garam masala and lemon wedges.
Serve hot with naan, tandoori roti or any flatbread.