One of the best things about travelling to another country is sampling the local delicacy. I’m not the type of person to shy away from another person’s culture I think appreciating one’s culture is what makes us human beings unique. I love to share my wonderful culture with those who wish to learn and in return use the opportunity to school myself about another.
Towards the end of my recent vacation the EID celebration was in the midst of commencing. This was quite a special celebration for Muslim’s worldwide and I was right in the centre of it.
The UK has a very large muslim community but the vibe in the UAE was much different from what I had experienced in the UK. Thousands of people from various middle eastern countries flew into the UAE to embrace the occasion. As you can probably imagine, my brief encounter was chaotic. Festivals and events were rife, there was something for everyone to do or see – I’m sure you’re probably wondering what does this have to do with the recipe at hand? Well the recipe shared was inspired by some tasty food which I was lucky enough to sample.
One of the festivals I attended had a dish named “Harees” known by an alternative name; Harissa, Alsa, or Aleesa. Harees is a middle eastern appetiser where meat (chicken or mutton) is boiled and ground with wheatberries (sometimes barley is used) into a porridge like consistency. The wheatberries are soaked overnight to tenderise, ready for use.
This wheat and meat combination is usually left to simmer for several hours with additional condiments before being pureed and served with a lightly garnished topping of butter, cinnamon, sugar with onions and cashew being optional.
This meaty porridge is mostly eaten during Ramadan, as the protein from the meat and fibrous content naturally expand in the stomach and digest at a much slower rate, hence providing a fuller feeling. It’s certainly not unheard of for Harees to be consumed at weddings or other special occasions.
Since returning to the UK I was determined to remake this interesting dish, I enquired about how it was cooked, so that gave me an idea of what was needed. Unlike other middle eastern countries Emirati food tends to be lightly seasoned compared to Bengali/Indian cooking.
The base of the recipe required something thick to stabilise the meat. I wanted the Harees to be gluten free, so used gluten free oats instead of wheatberries. Not only did I not have to soak the oats overnight the cooking time was vastly reduced.
This recipe comes together in just over 60 minutes, this knocks hours off the traditional way of cooking of 4 hours plus without compromising the taste.
- 3 pieces of chicken breast, cut into large chunks (organic if possible)
- 1 cup of gluten free oats (quick oats, not old fashioned)
- 6 cups of water
- ½ a medium onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1tsp of salt (or according to taste)
- ¼tsp of black pepper
- For garnish
- 4tbsp of dairy free butter (see my recipe)
- small handful of cashews and sliced onions
- cranberries or sultanas *optional
- dash of cinnamon
- 1 cardamom pod *optional
- 4 tbsp of dairy free butter (see link above)
- Start by adding the water, spices, onion and chicken pieces into a large heavy duty saucepan on a low to medium flame.
- Once the pot begins to boil, reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 20-25 minutes with the pot covered - add more water if required
- When the given time has passed, remove the pot from the stove and use a slotting spoon to take out the chicken pieces and cinnamon stick.
- Cut the chicken chunks into fine shreds and transfer back into the large pot.
- Put the pot on a low flame with the oats added.
- Allow the meaty oat mixture to simmer for 25 minutes, make sure to stir frequently. If the water begins to evaporate, replenish with ½ to 1 cup of water, don't over saturate the meat or the recipe will become too liquidise.
- By now the oats will have thickened and congeal with the chicken.
- Use an immersion blender to puree the ingredients into a porridge consistency.
- Heat a frying pan, sautee the cashews and onions for 1-2 minutes in the butter.
- Sprinkle over the harees with cinnamon and extras.