At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

THE SWEETNESS OF THE LAMB

Several years ago I stopped purchasing Ahmed's pickles, which came from Pakistan, and switched to Patak's, which are made in England. The reason has nothing to do with taste (Ahmed's Pickles are truly excellent), price, or politics. It is not because I despise Pakis, or object to the average Pakistani's reprehensible political views. By no means.

[I do not boycott, by and large. Even if Pakistan despises Americans, Jews, and Israel, that is immaterial. Malaysia does the same, and Malays are fairly unpleasant arrogant little turds to boot, but I still purchase blatjan (blachan: stinky prawn paste) made in that abysmal dreck of a place. A pox on Mahathir Muhammad and all his kin. But their blatjan is fine.]


It is a quality control issue. I simply do not trust foods made in places like Pakistan, Spain, Eastern Europe, or Texas.

I could put up such pickles myself, but manufactured Indian-style pickles are better than most of us have the time or talent to make, and it's just so much easier to rely on someone else's mom - especially as regards nimboo ka achar or am ka achar.

[Achar (pronounced 'ah-tjar' - the 'ch' is English rather than Yiddish or Ivrit): meaning 'pickle' in most Indian languages and in much of the Indonesian archipelago. An essential part of a well-stocked larder, a benefit to the dinner table.]


Not all Indian and Pakistani preparations are mom-work, however.
Haleem (حليم) needs a man's input. A strong vigorous male hand, to beat it into shape. Fiercely.


GENTLE, FORBEARING, KIND


The word 'haleem' means gentle, forbearing, kind. It is one of the names of the divine (Al-Halim: G-d), as well as a descriptive of patient and understanding persons, and a popular name for men.

As applied to food, it becomes a comforting and nutritious meat-grain-lentil porridge. Spiced, of course, in the Indian manner (in this case meaning Muslim style, as it is not associated with Hindus, and is a traditional dish for breaking the Ramadan fast).

[Haleem is also an excellent breakfast dish, especially if one has grown tired of sheep's trotters in broth.]


HALEEM

Two cups wheat (whole grains).
Two cups masoor dal.
One cup dry chickpeas.
One and half pounds of lamb, cut into small chunks.
Three large onions, chopped fine.
Three to six cloves garlic, slivered.
A thumb of ginger, minced.
One Tablespoon cayenne.
Half a Tablespoon sweet paprika.
Half a Tablespoon cumin seeds (toast and grind).
Half a Tablespoon garam masala (Sindhi style - very fragrant).
One teaspoon turmeric.
One teaspoon salt.
Pinches of sugar (accentuates browning of ingredients).
Olive oil, samin, or ghee - your choice.
Juice of two or three lemons.
Generous handfuls of cilantro and parsley, plus a pluck of mint leaves. Finely minced.


Soak the grain, lentils, and chickpeas separately overnight. Drain, and cook separately with water to cover for an hour or so. Turn off heat and let cool.

Fry the onions golden (add a pinch sugar if needed), remove to a plate. Fry the garlic and ginger in the same pan, remove to a plate. Now decant most of the onion plus all of the fried garlic and ginger to the blender and pulp them (this is where the vigorously thrashing man came into play, in the days before blenders). Do the same with the lentils. And the chickpeas.

Put the spices in the pan with the onion puree and fry fragrant. Add the meat and turn to coat and brown well (again, pinch of sugar if needed). Add the grain, lentils, chickpeas, plus water to cover if necessary. Simmer for an hour or more on low, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. At this point the grains should be mushy enough that a wooden spoon held by a strong hand will break them apart; do so (this also is the work of male muscles). If some of the meat also breaks apart, excellent. The result should be a meaty porridge. Simmer a bit longer, then add the herbs to wilt, salt to taste, some fresh garam masala for aroma, and the lemon juice for tang. Garnish with the remaining fried onion and serve.

[UPDATE 06/13/08: I usually add a few tablespoons of minced green chili on top for my own pleasure. You may think twice about doing so.]


Note I:
In order to smoothen the mouth-feel or thicken the porridge, some corn-flour paste may be used. Add a few minutes before turning off the heat, at the same time as the herbs, and stir.

Note II:
If the grain is omitted, it will be a type of kichri. That isn't what you wanted.

Note: III:
This is also a great dish to come home to after a night of carousing. That may be at odds with the personal habits of most of the traditional consumers of this dish. Savour the frisson.

Note IV:
Our neighbors in Valkenswaard were a large yeti-woman and her shrimp of a husband. In their case, the man would've been useless as far as making haleem is concerned. But he knew his fish, and trimmed seafood with a master's hand. In retrospect it is a pity that she did not make haleem.

Note V:
The amount of cayenne given above is mostly hypothetical, seeing as Savage Kitten has not even half the taste for chilies as a normal person (meaning: me). So I do not cook much with cayenne, and add the heat later to what I myself will eat. She will hardly touch a chili, and only if it is a Jalapeňo - never a Serrano, D'Arbol, or Thai. Savage Kitten does not touch nimboo ka achar or am ka achar either - too hot, too bitter, too salty. What is wrong with that woman?

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