Typically eaten throughout Armenia, the Middle-East and even in India, this truly ancient meal made of meat and wheat was invented to feed a crowd. Harees is also called jareesh, areesa and harissa, depending on the country of origin.
What is harees and how is it made?
Harees is a wheat-based preparation mixed with pounded meat and cooked till it reaches the consistency of porridge. Wheat is the most common ingredient which has to be soaked the day before cooking, but there are different versions using oat and rice (in Oman).
The meat is often lamb or chicken, but there are varieties using mutton which is cooked with the bone then the de-boned pieces are pounded into a meat purée and stirred into the meal. In the old times, a specially designed wooden spoon called medhrab was used to beat and mash the softened wheat, but in the absence of that, a hand blender or a food processor work just as well.
Traditionally made as a charity meal for a crowd in huge cauldrons, it became a staple homemade comfort food as time went on, but nowadays it’s also available in community kitchens as a take away meal.
What is the origin of harees?
Harees was already mentioned in cookbooks from the 10th century, then in two different volumes in the 13th century from Baghdad and Andalusia which clearly indicates its wide permeation in the early times. It is also probable that harees was first created in the Fertile Crescent and quickly became common in the nearby countries and shortly in India as well.
What is the etymology of harees?
The English translation of harees is “beaten wheat and meat” hence it is derived from the Akkadian harasu and the Arabic harasa words, both meaning to mash or smash.
According to other sources, the name came from Gregory the Illuminator, patron saint of Armenia who fed the poor with a meal of sheep but as it wasn’t enough for all of them, it was enriched with wheat. The whole grains were sticking to the pot, so Gregory ordered his helpers to beat it to a mash (Harekh!) and by that, he unintentionally named the meal for harissa.
What are the various names and versions of harees?
Harissa is eaten on Easter day in Armenia where the roughly ground wheat, the so called korkot is used for the dish. It requires a rather long cooking time but it has symbolic meaning, as the time spent on cooking makes the food more valuable for others.
A similar dish is called harise in Iraqi cuisine, alsa or aleesa in a particular district of Kerala, haleem in Hyderabad, harissa or hareesa in Kashmir. Haleem is also in close relation with a Keralan version, enriched with pulses and called kichda.
When is harees consumed?
As tradition says, the roots of harees are linked to Armenia, where people eat it even nowadays for festivities and consider it the country’s national meal.
Cooked as a charity dish to feed the poor in the old times, it has become the food made by wealthy families in Arabic countries to share with the less fortunate neighbors on special occasions, like Ramadan, Eid or several-day long weddings, whereas in Christian countries people eat it during Christmas and Easter.
How is harees served?
Harees is a pretty simple, home style food which doesn’t require spectacular plating and extravagant decoration. Its seasoning is pretty bland originally, but can be spiced up with different flavor combinations, such as cinnamon and cumin or garlic and cardamom, but some crispy onions, ginger and a few drops of lime will suffice for a tangy aroma.
Basic seasoning includes cinnamon, cumin and cardamom in Arabic regions, sprinkled with roughly chopped parsley in Saudi Arabia. Turmeric and chili in India and classic Mediterranean flavors like olive oil and garlic in Lebanon.
The sweet version of harees
There is a sweet variant in Iran, called haleem. The cooking method is the same but the meat is omitted. Melted butter is poured over the piping hot mash, sweetened with confectioner’s sugar, then sprinkled with cinnamon.
The well known, characteristic Middle-Eastern ingredients such as tahina, roughly chopped pistachio, dried fruits, pomegranate molasses or rose water can be a wonderful addition among many others.
Harees, also called jareesh or harissa for Armenians is a dish of boiled, crushed or roughly ground wheat, mixed with lamb meat. It is equally popular in Iraq and other Persian Gulf states, especially during the month of Ramadan.
- 2 lb lamb neck or shoulder with bone
- 6 cups whole wheat berries habb harees or 6 cups pearl wheat (habb durham harees)
- ¾ cup ghee clarified butter
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons ground and roasted cumin
- 4 cloves garlic chopped
- 6 pods cardamom
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons caster sugar
- Soak the wheat for 8 hours in a large amount of cold water.
In a large pot, place the pre-soaked and drained wheat, add 1 quart (1 liter) of water, cover and boil until the wheat begins to swell and soften slightly, about 30 minutes.
- While cooking the wheat, soak the lamb in a large amount of lightly salted water.
- When the wheat is soft, rinse and drain the meat.
- In a large cast iron pot or heavy bottom place the wheat and meat. Season with salt and pepper.
Cover with water until reaching about 2 inches (5 cm) above the wheat and meat. Cover.
- Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and cook over very low heat for 4 hours, stirring occasionally and removing any foam or fat from the surface.
- Once the wheat is very soft, has lost its shape and most of the water has been absorbed, remove the pot from the heat and let cool a little, then remove the bones.
If all the water has been absorbed, add about 1 cup (250 ml) of boiling water. If there is too much water but the wheat is cooked, pour off the excess water.
- Shred the lamb if there are any larger pieces left. There should not be any, because almost all the meat will have melted in the wheat.
- Using a medhrab (a specially designed wooden beater) or a large wooden spoon, beat the wheat and meat vigorously until you obtain the consistency of homogeneous and slightly elastic porridge.
- This process can be done by hand but it is also possible to beat it in a food processor or use a hand blender.
- Adjust the seasoning and keep warm.
- Place the ghee in a large pot and season to taste with salt and pepper and add the ingredients of the chosen seasoning option.
- Warm the ghee over low heat and mix well.
- Transfer the wheat porridge to a large earthenware dish and top with the seasoned ghee.
- Serve immediately.
For option 2, remove the cardamom pods before serving.