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Vegan Harees

Posted Oct 09 2012 3:31am

Ladies and gentlemen, I have achieved the impossible; Vegan Harees.

Before I proceed with the bragging, let’s take a step back. If you’re not from the Middle East (or in some cases from the Gulf) you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. Allow me to explain (with the help of wisegeek )

Harees is a traditional dish in Arab cuisine, served throughout the Middle East. It is a mixture of dried wheat kernels and meat, cooked together until they are soft enough to whip into a pudding-like texture. Preparing harees is a lengthy process and the dish is usually reserved for special occasions. It is particularly associated with celebrations such as Eid, Ramadan and weddings.

Before you say anything, I know what you’re thinking. It sounds weird. I have never actually tried the real deal as my first exposure to it was during high school, long after I had stopped eating meat. Either way, the idea of what is essentially meat (or chicken) boiled down to a pulp really did not sound appealing. I remember a less than entertaining moment one Ramadan when my brother tried to trick me into eating – needless to say I was not impressed. Anyways, whether or not I think it looks (or sounds) gross, there’s really no two ways about it. Khaleeji (and especially Bahraini) people love their Harees. It’s as ubiquitous a Ramadan dish as any and is probably the number one dish we get sent from various neighbours and acquaintances. So of course in honour of the Vegan Mofo, I just had to try my hand at a meat-free version. “How do you make Harees without meat?” a friend inquired. “Wouldn’t that just be mush?” To which I responded that Harees is pretty much “mush” either way. Anyways, enough anecdotal yimmer yammer, let’s get on to the recipe.  

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Vegan Harees Serves 8 (but probably more)

  • 1 cup of dried hab harees or wheatberries, soaked overnight
  • 1 1/4 cup textured vegetable protein (I used chunks, but the ground stuff is fine too)
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 small clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp meat/steak seasoning
  • 2 tsp baharat spice mix
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • pinch of cumin
  • 1-2 drops liquid smoke (this stuff is like gold)
  • 1/2 a vegetable stock cube
  • A little vegetable or canola oil
  1. In a shallow bowl, combine the meat seasoning, baharat spice mix and about 1 cup of boiling water and the liquid smoke. Mix well then immerse the TVP and leave for 5 minutes until rehydrated.
  2. In a pan, heat the oil and fry the onions lightly till just brown. Add the TVP with the soak water (it has all the spices/flavour) to the mix and stir through.
  3. Drain the wheatberries of their soak water and add to the mixture. Add about 2 cups of water or enough so that there is about an inch or two of water above the mixture. Bring to a boil and add in the cinnamon stick, and stock cube, then lower the heat, cover and simmer.
  4. Cooking time will vary. Mine took just over an our, but make sure to stir occasionally and add water as needed to keep the Harees from burning. Once the harees reaches an oatmeal like consistency, it’s ready.
  5. Allow mixture to cool (and remove cinnamon stick, if you can find it) before adding to a food processor or use an immersion/hand blender to puree. I personally wanted the Harees to have a slight bite to it (not traditional, I know) so I didn’t process it all the way.
  6. Serve warm with a drizzle of olive oil or melted earth balance + a sprinkling of cinnamon.

The obvious question here is how to serve this. As I understand it can be served as a main meal or as a side “dip” and eaten with khubiz (Arabic bread). I had a small bowl alongside a lentil salad for dinner and I have to say, it was surprisingly good! It was rich and fragrant from the spices, densely filling and deliciously savoury.

Whether or not it tastes authentic is definitely questionable – my Harees-loving brother tried it and asked “what it was meant to be” so I’m sure it doesn’t closely resemble the real version by any stretch of the imagination. He laughed when I told him it was my stab at Harees, but said it still tasted good.

And we all know that if it pleaseth the sibling, then it ain’t half bad.

I’m considering trying a more whole foods-y version using pearl barley and lentils, but that’s for another time.

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