Haleem is one of my husband Lulu's many favorite dishes. It has a velvety consistency and is usually made of pearled wheat germ (sometimes with barley as well), stewed meat (chicken, goat meat or beef shanks), five varieties of lentils and various spices. Since Lulu and his dad are vegetarians, I prepare it meat-free (so appropriate for our Meatless Mondays!). The thick lentil stew is served piping hot with fresh ginger cut into thin matchsticks, daikon pieces, fresh mint (sometimes with dill also), chopped chiles, lime wedges and a garnish of crispy fried onions.
It used to be a labor-intensive task to turn the mixture into a thick paste, but these days a food processor makes it easy breezy. Thank you so much to Phoopi (Daddy's sister) who taught me this wonderful dish, despite her extremely busy schedule. Lulu is so excited he wants to eat vegetarian haleem everyday!
The day before...
In a mixing bowl, combine the 5 lentils. Wash the lentils and discard any floating or odd-shaped ones. Wash and rinse thoroughly in several water baths (about three times). Cover them in lukewarm water and let soak for about 12 hours.
In a separate bowl, repeat the same procedure with the wheat germ. Cover with double the amount of water as it will expand in volume.
The next day...
Drain the lentils and wheat germ, removing as much of the soaking water as possible.
Place them in separatele saucepans. Add ½ teaspoon turmeric, ½ red chili powder and 1 teaspoon ground coriander to each pan. Cover with water, bring to a boil, cook the lentils for about 60 minutes and the wheat for 90 minutes, adding ½ teaspoon salt in each saucepan half-way through cooking time, then drain the wheat. Let cool to room temperature. Blend the wheat and lentils separately in a food processor. Add a little water for a smoother flow.
Caramelizing the onions:
Chop 3 onions and using a mandoline, thinly slice the remaining 2 onions. Heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick pan. Add the sliced onions, 1 thin layer at a time (work in batches; you don't want to over-crowd the pan or they won't be crispy). Cook over medium heat for about 8 minutes, stirring after 4-5 minutes to prevent the onion from burning, until the color is evenly golden brown. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels, leaving as much oil as possible in the pan. Add more oil between batches if necessary.
For the spiced gravy:
In a large pot, heat ½ cup oil. Add the 3 chopped onions and cooked for about 10 minutes until golden. Transfer to a blender. Add a little water if necessary for a smoother flow.
To the same pot, add 2 cups oil. Add 3 tablespoons ginger garlic paste, the remaining ground coriander, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 tablespoon red chili powder and 2 teaspoons turmeric. Cook until very fragrant. Lower the heat and add the whisked yogurt. Cook Cook over medium heat until red oil comes back to the surface. Return the puréed fried onion paste to the pot. Complete with 2 cups of water. Add 2 cups of water to the blender, mix well to rinse the rest of the onion in it and add to the pot.
Add the lentils and the wheat. Repeat with the same procedure as the blender: add about 3½ cups water to the food processor, mix well to rinse the rest of the wheat in it and add to the pot. Add the lime juice. Stir well. Check seasoning and adjust if necessary. (Depending on how thick you like the consistency of the haleem, you can add more water.) Let simmer for 30 minutes. Turn off the heat. Make sure to cover the pot with a lid to prevent it from forming a skin.
Serve in individual bowls. Garnish with the crisp fried onions. Place fresh ginger, daikon pieces, fresh mint, chopped chiles and lime wedges on the side.
For a faster coking time, you could also cook the lentils and the wheat (separately) in a pressure cooker. It would take only 20-30 minutes (instead of a long hour).
You could cook ½ pound of barley with ½ pound of pearled wheat, instead of only using wheat. Phoopi doesn't recommend this option because the result isn't as smooth. Also, barley ferments quickly and the lentil stew doesn't store as well.
Indian cuisine almost always calls for ginger garlic paste.
Whisking the yogurt prior to adding it to the stew prevents it from curdling in the gravy.
Little reminder on how to make ginger garlic paste: Clean one (2-inch) chunk of fresh ginger, carefully removing any dirt. Peel the ginger root with a paring knife or the edge of a spoon, then finely chop it. Place the chopped ginger and 5 cloves of garlic in a blender and add about 2 tablespoons (or more) of water for a smooth flow. Transfer to a jar and store in the refrigerator. You can keep this paste for at least a week in the refrigerator.
You can find the ingredients listed in most Indian markets.