lamb stew (keshkeg) herriseh

Gruel. Slop. Porridge. Mush. Images from a Charles Dickens' novel where orphans survive on one pot meals that pour into their little eating bowl all too infrequently. Usually eaten with a spoon. Closer to home this dish reminds me of my dad's hot oatmeal that he ate every morning for breakfast. A thick grey amorphous mass, not very appealing, but tasty with milk and sugar and perhaps even nutritious (the oatmeal).

Herriseh is a traditional Armenian recipe that even finds its way into a famous historical phrase connected with their often precarious status in the north Middle East. The traditional production method is somewhat dependent on having a homebound cook, since it takes about 7 hours of stovetop attention to execute. Isgouhi, perhaps slightly influenced by American attitudes about really excessive time intensive home activities (but only slightly), cuts this time considerably using a pressure cooker. Though Paul's favorite, ms_ani has resisted the dish for years until bob got interested and repeatedly insisted that she have some. Now she almost likes it, a decided improvement. It is not the most attractive meal in the pot or on your plate, but it is pretty tasty nonetheless. And good for you.

Herriseh is made with another whole grain, shelled wheat, also called "skinless whole grain wheat", which is an uncooked hulled wheat (dzedzadz) that is available in Armenian food products stores, but which can be substituted by barley (pearl barley) in desperation. In contrast cracked wheat (bulgur = tzavar) is a cooked wheat which is dried and ground into four sizes (1: fine, 2: medium, 3: big, 4 or half-cut: bigger). All this useful information comes from a pair of really good Armenian cookbooks recently acquired in the herriseh research effort. For some time bob never realized this was almost his highly prized barley in disguise (that he rarely seems to eat in spite of his desire for it) since after the cooking treatment it gets, the individual grains disintegrate.

ingredients

1 lb lamb meat
5 c water (approximate)
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
1 small onion, chopped in 6 pieces
1 c shelled wheat
1 T butter

instructions

  1. Start with de-scumming: boil the cutup lamb meat in water (just to cover) and remove the scum that forms on the surface of the water. Rinse well.
  2. Put the meat into a pressure cooker and cover it with water. Add bay leaves, salt and pepper, and the onion pieces. Bring to a boil and again remove the foam at the top with a spoon.
  3. Close the pressure cooker and bring to full steam. Cook 10-15 minutes at full steam.
  4. Meanwhile rinse shelled wheat several times until the rinse water runs clear. Put into a pot with 2 inches more water than the wheat level. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Stir occasionally. Add water occasionally as it sucks it up, until all the kernels are open and puffed up, about 1 hour.
  5. Add the wheat to the meat and stir. Add 1 cup (or more) water if too thick. Bring to a boil. Taste for salt. Then close the pressure cooker and cook 1 hour at low pressure.
  6. Open and taste for spices and adjust. Add 3 c boiling water. Simmer 1 hour.
  7. Melt butter in nonstick pan and mix into the stuff.
  8. Simmer a bit longer until ready to serve.

notes

  1. If you add up the cooking times, it seems like an almost manageable 3 hours plus spillover for prep. Still long but conceivable compared to over 7. I think we can sacrifice: it's this or nothing, unless Dzovig invites us over for dinner...
  2. Ani's aunt Ani simplifies this further by combining steps 3 thru 5 into a single shot single pot "throw all the ingredients into the pressure cooker" approach and simmer 3 hours minimum under pressure. Somewhere along the way the bones get removed in both recipes, but this requires further clarification...
  3. Some other spellings: herisah, hareesa, harrisah.
  4. Illustrations available.
herriseh.htm: 16-aug-2006 [what, ME cook? 1984 dr bob enterprises]