Across the world, there are many dishes that are associated with religious holidays and festivities. Come Diwali, people immediately begin fantasising about delicious, rich sweets and mithais. When it comes to Ramadan, the dish that is universally associated with it in Hyderabad and its surroundings is undoubted haleem.
This calorie-rich dish was brought to the city by migrants from Yemen, Afghanistan and Iran who settled down in the city during the reign of the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, Mahbub Ali Khan. It became an integral part of Hyderabad’s cuisine during the reign of the seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan. Today, the haleem available in Hyderabad is infused with local spices to give it a distinct and mouth-watering flavour.
Traditionally, haleem is cooked over a wood fire for about 10 to 12 hours. In a huge cauldron, wheat and lamb (or chicken) are cooked until the ingredients turn into a chunk paste. Two men continuously pound the wheat and meat using wooden paddles until they have a sticky-smooth consistency. Then clarified butter or ghee, fresh coriander leaves, cloves, ground pepper, cinnamon and cardamom are added to give haleem its unique taste and flavour. The dish is served piping hot, garnished with deep fried onions and a slice of lemon.
To suit different palates, there are several variations available. There is a sweet haleem that is preferred by the Arab diaspora of the city and consumed mostly for breakfast. There is chicken haleem and then there is lamb haleem, which is the most popular. Even vegetarians can relish and savour haleem, which is made from dry fruits and vegetables.
Haleem is considered the perfect way for Muslims to break their fast during Ramadan. The slow digesting and fast acting ingredients in the dish offer just the right amount of calories and energy after a long day of fasting. Come sundown, it is a common sight during Ramadan to see a huge crowd gather in front of haleem-serving restaurants in the city.
Haleem with its buttery bouquet of spices and lamb attracts people of all faiths in the city to enjoy and celebrate the multi-faceted and sumptuous cuisine of Hyderabad.