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Thursday, 1 August 2013

Ramadan in India - Hyderabad's love for food needs no excuse & Haleem Recipe

Ramadan in India 

"While I have grown up far away from my hometown in India, my talented mother has rekindled the soul of Hyderabadi Ramadan cooking for us in our home in Dubai. I would step through our apartment door after school, childishly hungry after a half-day of fasting, and be whacked in the face by the tantalizing aroma of fried crunchy onions battered in nutty chickpea flour (pakodas), sweet lentil patties immersed in cool yogurt gravy (dahi wada), plump parcels of minced meat deep-fried to a crisp (samosas and lukmi), creamy wheat and meat porridge laced with warm ghee, Indian masalas and slivers of ginger (haleem) or one of the many other stomach-tugging dishes she would prepare for the Holy Month."
-Arva Ahmed, Author of the blog I Live In a Frying Pan 
and owner of the food tours company Frying Pan Adventures 

A Love for food needs no excuse
As I chatted with the lovely Arva Ahmed, who is a UAE based food blogger and tourer, about Ramadan in India, specifically Hyderabad where she is from, I had come to learn that the Hyderabadis love food. "Hyderabadis' love for food is well-known!" she says and explains to me that over there, people will not hesitate to cook up any of their specialities during festivities and other times of the year as well. Be it a wedding, a party or even if guests drop by for dinner, it seems that the Hyderabadis love to indulge and they don’t even need an excuse! 

"The only difference during Ramadan is that they have 29 or 30 consecutive days of festive eating, with a fanatical devotion to Haleem as the key dish that makes a Hyderabadi iftar table complete." says Arva. 

The Most Famous Hyderabadi Ramadan Food 
You can sense the enthusiasm of which Arva speaks by the extensive list of foods that she described when I asked her about the cuisine's dishes most associated with Ramadan over there. Some of these dishes are:
Channa Dal - Split black chickpeas cooked until they are ‘al dente,’ and tossed with raw onions and spices. (find the recipe on this link
Pakodas - Pakodas refers to any kind of vegetable - onion slices, spinach leaves, potatoes - coated in a spiced gram flour batter and deep-fried until golden brown. Arva's favourite kind that they only see emerge from her mum’s kitchen during Ramadan is the stuffed chili pakoda - de-seeded chillies that have a poofy batter-coat and are bursting at the seams with a spicy-salty sesame paste (til ki chutney) that has been stuffed inside. (Pakados recipe in tomorrow's post)
Dahi Wada - Lentil fritters soaked until plump in a refreshing yogurt sauce that has been tempered with mustard seeds and curry leaves. These are often drizzled with sweet tamarind chutney -"a combination made in culinary heaven" says Arva. (find the recipe on this link)
Haleem - One of Hyderabad’s all-time favourite foods! This is a wheat, meat and lentil porridge that is painstakingly cooked over many hours, until the meat completely melts down to a thick mash. The right way to serve it is laced with ghee (clarified butter), crunchy strips of raw ginger and fresh coriander leaves. (recipe below)
Lukmi - A rectangle-shaped minced meat turnover that is soft and chewy on the outside, and comfortingly meaty on the inside. Lukmi wins the savoury fritter race over the more popularly available samosas any day. (find the recipe on this link)
Sweet milk with dried fruits - Sweetened milk beverage with dried fruits (finely chopped cashews, almonds and pistachios) stirred in.
Lukmi - Photo by Arva Ahmed

I had originally thought that a lot of prep must take place in the Hyderabadi Kitchen prior to Ramadan. But I was surprised to know that most the of the preparations do take place on daily basis during the month as opposed to being prepared in advance.  
"Other than a stack of freshly-chopped nuts that would be immersed into a pitcher of cool sweet milk to break the fast every day, or the samosas and lukmi which could be wrapped, sealed and frozen weeks beforehand, there really wasn’t much preparation that would begin prior to Ramadan. Mamma would create a fresh set of magical dishes in her kitchen every day." explains Arva

How do the Fasting traditionally break their Fast in Hyderabad?
"At home - though I won’t pretend to be the cook, mum still owns the kitchen and its secrets!" 
Says Arva and went on explaining that the spirit of Ramadan is in breaking the fast at home together with the family, with foods that have been lovingly prepared in your home kitchen. She says:
"Families cook at home, and either entertain guests in their home or send treats around to neighbouring families. There is a real spirit of togetherness and eating at home with the family, whereas with restaurant cuisine, you would lose those tummy-tingling smells that waft about your home in the last hours before Iftar, making your entire stomach feel like a hollow cave that’s about to collapse! There is a delight and a sense of bonding in waiting out those final moments before you break your fast as a family together, and no matter how much I love dining out, you just can’t bring that experience alive in the same way at a restaurant." 
As for the choice of cuisine, Arva says she is always open to experimenting with the traditional foods of other Ramadan-practicing communities around the world. For instance, she was happy to discover Arabic Atayef (deep-fried baby pancakes stuffed with clotted cream, cheese or nuts and dipped in sugar syrup) or the Iranian ash-e-reshteh (hearty soup made of beans, lentils and noodles) and their version of haleem
"I try to stick to food that teaches me something about the spirit or culture of the month. Pizza, sushi, burgers, etc. - no matter how dearly I love any of them - are all ruled out."
 Any breaking fast traditions that made it through the genrations and still exist today? I asked her and she said:
"We stay true to the Prophet (PBUH)’s tradition - dates and water, or sometimes, dates with dried fruit milk. Thankfully, this is one tradition that has never changed, and I doubt it ever will. Never may we see the day when people start breaking their fast with soda!"

As for Suhour, traditionally, Hyderabadis would eat a heavy sohoor meal comprising kichdi (rice cooked with lentils), keema (minced meat), eggs and paratha (layered Indian flatbread made of wheat).
"We have opted out of this regime in Dubai and kept things a bit more simple and healthy with whole grain cereals, milk and sometimes treats that have been leftover from our iftar meal the evening before. 
Given the move towards healthier foods in our home, we try to reserve deep-fried foods for only a few indulgent days of Ramadan. While extremely appetizing, traditionally Hyderabadi food can admittedly be quite calorie-laden and the fried/meat-heavy dishes might dehydrate the body more than replenishing it with essential fluids. More recently, we try to keep our iftars light and healthy with dishes like sautéed spiced corn and mint chutney sandwiches. Not as exotic, but nevertheless nutritious and filling!" 



A Sample Menu of a Traditional Hyderabad Iftar

Tamarind and Sesame-Stuffed Chilli Pakodas 

Main Course 
Haleem, served with a side of chopped ginger, coriander leaves and ghee 

Qubani Ka Meetha (slow-stewed apricot compote) 
Jalebi (derived from the Arabic Zalabia) 

Check this link by Kalyan, author of the blog Finely Chopped to learn about Ramadan in Mumbai

Photo by Arva Ahmed
Arva's Haleem Recipe

"Mum’s version of Haleem knocks the pants off the restaurant ones because she uses the heat-inducing garam masala with appropriate restraint. Her haleem spice mix hits the right spot in your tummy without burning a painful hole through it." describes Arva

You Need
¼ to ½ kg Mutton, either boneless or bone-in – quantity depends on how ‘meaty’ you prefer the Haleem to be)
Mix of three lentils: Masoor, Moong and Tuwar – ¾ cup of all three dals mixed in equal parts
Whole wheat kernels (available specifically for harees in local supermarkets) – ½ kg
Ginger-Garlic Paste - 2 tbsp
Onions – 5 to 6 medium-sized purple onions
Green chillies – To taste
Turmeric – ¾ tsp
Coriander powder – 2 tbsp
Salt – To taste
Vegetable oil – 4 tbsp
Ginger – thin slivers for garnish (optional)
Coriander, chopped – for garnish (optional)
Lemon - quartered
Ghee – for garnish (optional)

Previous day prep
Wash the lentils and wheat. Soak overnight in lots of water.
Keeping one aside, thinly slice all the onions and deep-fry them in hot oil until golden brown. Drain the onions on a paper towel until they are completely dry and crispy.

Same day prep
Mix the lentils, meat, wheat, ginger garlic paste, turmeric, coriander powder, salt, onion (quarters) and oil in a pressure-cooker or slow cooker. Cook until the wheat kernels soften.

Once cooled, blend the mixture along with approx. 4 tbsp of the fried onions. If there are bone-in pieces, first remove the meat off of the bones and then blenderize. If you prefer to have a few whole pieces of meat in your haleem (or more correctly, called kichda if the meat chunks are left in), reserve a few of the meat chunks before blending.

Blend to a smooth, creamy paste, adding in warm water to help in the blending process if required. The final texture of the haleem should be fine enough where you cannot taste any textural variation from the lentils or wheat, but not overly watery. If you spoon a dollop of haleem back into the mixture, it should not be a stiff lump but the impression of the spoonful should form clearly.
Add back any whole meat chunks that you may have kept aside.

To serve, melt some ghee and drizzle over the haleem. Garnish with coriander and lots of fried onions. Serve slivers of ginger and quartered lemons alongside.

Haleem tips: 
To heat the haleem before serving, place the pot atop a flat griddle or tawa (flat plate for making Indian breads) an hour before mealtime. Let the haleem heat through slowly, mixing it ever so often to avoid it sticking to the edges. 
Some people like to add an extra touch to their haleem – a sunny side-up egg. Crack an egg over the hot haleem (before you add the fried onions and coriander garnish) and drizzle sizzling hot ghee over the yolk to let it cook. Let your guests break through the yolk while serving themselves, so that it seeps out over the haleem and adds an additional layer of richness and flavour.
You may actually cook the entire haleem a day before (this would involve soaking the lentils and wheat two nights before). Haleem keeps well in the refrigerator.

Meet Arva Ahmed, 
aka The Frying Pan
Most people know this amzingly witty, super funny, and all round sweet lady as the ‘Frying Pan’ but her real name is Arva Ahmed. She is the lady who uniquely saw beyond Dubai's Glitz & Glamour and gave people the opportunity to discover Dubai's hidden restaurant gems (the city's authentic food scene).

Over the past three years, Arva has actively indulged her love for food through her words on her blog, I Live in a Frying Pan, as well as through her various local and international assignments for well-respected publications including NYC-based Serious Eats, Abu Dhabi-based The National, Dubai-based Alpha (Gulf News) and India-based The Live Mint. Along with one of her dearest food blogger friends, Arva also co-founded Fooderati Arabia – UAE’s only community of over 130 food bloggers, each of whom bring their unique talents and ‘special sauce’ to the group. Arva describes herself as: 
"I am the girl possessed with a terribly curious, actively chomping mouth that loves to sniff out hidden restaurant gems across Old Dubai. With a family history rooted in Hyderabad and Burhanpur, two major Muslim centres of India; with a childhood in Dubai; and then close to a decade in cosmopolitan cities like Philadelphia and New York, I have grown to passionately love the cultural diversity that manifests itself through the delicious medium of food. My love for the unassuming ethnic treats in the forgotten parts of this glamorously-marketed city has led me to start a food-tourism company called Frying Pan Adventures – Dubai’s first ever food tours. My dream is to revive the city’s old charm by weaving ethnic foods and the stories behind them into unique gastronomic experiences for visitors and residents alike."

All information, along with Haleem recipe and photographs, unless otherwise mentioned, are provided by Arva Ahmed and are her property. They are published on this blog with her permission. Please do not copy or use them without her permission.

Food For Thought
We always want to inspire our children, but often forget to be inspired by the idealism of childhood

Hope you have enjoyed getting to know about Ramadan in India, the Hyderabadis love for food and a little bit more about their cuisine. 

Ramadan is about to be over soon, I would love to hear your thoughts about this year's Ramadan Special, what you think of it so far, how you like or dislike its topics and if you found the information useful and interesting. Share your thoughts with me as they help me see these posts from your perspective and help me better plan next year's Ramadan posts :) So do please leave a comment giving me your feedback...

Come back tomorrow for
Al Musaherati Tradition & Arva's Mum's secret recipe for Pakodas (stuffed chili peppers)  :)

The world is beautiful, all its people are beautiful, all cultures equally important, and all the same in the end - all out there for us to explore...
Ramadan Kareem