ISLAMABAD-Kashmir has unique cuisine and offers a variety of dishes for different seasons of the year. Prepared and relished in winters as a popular dish, hareesa is a complete high-calorie meal packed with nutrients. This dish is normally cooked in winter during the months of December to March.
Delicious as well as nutritious, hareesa is prepared using fine-quality mutton or beef and some rice, barley or whole wheat mixed with spices. It is then cooked all night and is ready only the next morning. It is also a breakfast dish. The preparation of mutton for hareesa starts a morning before. Some say it is an acquired taste while others find its porridge like consistency quite comforting. Some prefer it on its own, eaten with a spoon; others devour it with soft and warm naan to make a very filling wholesome meal. The overnight cooking of hareesa is quite an event, generally taken up as an all-night activity by the expert chefs in one or several copper pots. The paste-like consistency of hareesa requires vigorous stirring so that it can crush the rice, barley or whole wheat grains with the meat to combine and achieve a smooth consistency. Chefs take turns at the stirring to grind and mash the grains through the night and perhaps all day as well on low heat. The slow cooking and stirring has its own rewards when plateful of delicious and steaming hot hareesa is doled out for serving. Mr Ghufran Javed, in his forties, sells hareesa at a restaurant at Committee Chowk along Murree Road in Rawalpindi and has been in this trade for the past 15 years. He learnt to make this dish from one of his ustaads running a famous hareesa eatery in Lahore.
“I have been independently preparing and selling hareesa in Rawalpindi for the last ten years now and have earned a sizeable clientele of this Kashmiri dish. The expertise and the adequate quality and quantity of mutton, rice and spices matter,” said Mr Ghufran Javed. Mr Ghufran Javed said that each kilogram of mutton requires 200 grams (20 per cent) of rice, barley or whole wheat. The rice, barley or whole wheat is crushed to make it soft and palatable after being soaked overnight with the meat. When the meat is tender, salt is added, and the entire mixture is mashed to pulp. When ready, the mixture is poured into a serving pot and sprinkled with cinnamon. Most of the customers relish hareesa accompanied with a piece of kebab and tandoori naan or roomali roti.
“The meat preparation starts early in the morning. It then goes through a process of refinement in afternoon. The mutton used in the dish is from the thigh of sheep or goat and is cleared of the fat and bones before the cooking process starts late at night. The meat is chopped finely and mixed with rice, barley or wheat. It is then cooked over firewood in earthen tandoors over covered hearths,” recalled Mr Ghufran Javed. According to Mr Ghufran Javed, the dish dates back to the Mughal era. It was later introduced to Kashmir, where its cooking style changed immensely. “It is a hard job but I will do anything to keep the tradition of hareesa-making from fading away,” he said passionately.
“Due to the rising cost of spices and LPG, the price per plate is actually very economical. The hard work that goes into making the dish is also factored in. The preparation of this winter dish needs immense patience,” he explained.
Sohail Wani, a hareesa lover and a regular customer, said he had been regularly eating hareesa for the last five years. “I enjoy it every weekend. It is delicious and helps me beat the cold,” he remarked.
So it is no surprise that the popularity of hareesa shoots up as the mercury plummets. Over the last few years, several restaurants advertising hareesa as their specialty have opened on Saidpur Road, College Road and in Saddar areas. These newcomers add rice to the hareesa, turning it into something reminiscent of the Afghan sticky rice dish, Shola Goshti.
Qaisar Hussain, a customer relishing hareesa at Mr Ghufran’s place, said that a single serving of hareesa was a fulfilling meal. “The small tasty kebabs offer a good juxtaposition to the creamy, rich texture of the hareesa,” he said.
“I prefer having hareesa for breakfast on weekends in winter. It is not too oily or spicy and mutton is always better than chicken. And if the hareesa is followed by a cup of salty Kashmiri tea, it makes my day,” commented Raja Naseer, a customer. In old Rawalpindi areas, one finds shops selling foods from all corners of the subcontinent including nihari from Delhi, kulcha, hareesa and tea from Kashmir, halwa puri from Amritsar and dahi bhaley from Delhi.
–The writer is a freelance contributor.