Notes From Hairenik
February 19, 2011

I just found some photos of my harisa party from 2010. My father-in-law, upon request--unless he volunteered, I can't remember--made a vat of harisa for my birthday, enough to feed a dozen people if not more. He repeated the performance two weeks ago. Fantastic stuff.

Harisa, which I suppose is similar in concept to a porridge, is made from very few ingredients, the main one being wheat berries. Chicken or Turkey meat is also used, although my grandmother's "keshkeg," as it's called in her village dialect, is made with lamb. First the wheat berries are soaked in water and are set to simmer. The chicken (we used thighs and legs) is boiled separately then shredded and added to the wheat berries, along with some salt at some point during the process. Alternatively, you can cook a whole chicken in the water and wheat mixture and pick out the bones as the meat falls off, all the while stirring and mashing, which is needlessly strenuous work. The ingredients cook overnight (or all day, depending on when you plan on eating), and should be stirred frequently, although my father-in-law's trick is to not disturb the wheat until several hours have passed to bypass the churning that must be undertaken once every fifteen minutes, as I found out when it was my turn to watch the harisa in the morning.
This is Aram, my wife's first cousin, currently serving in the army down in Kapan.

Growing up I was taught to eat harisa by pouring melted butter and sprinkling ground cumin on top. My father in law prefers white onions caramelized in clarified butter, which is known here as "sokharadz" (see the action photo below of my wife filling it into a faux Chinese soup bowl). The contrast in tastes between the nuttiness of the wheat berries and the caramelized ooziness of the onions is something to be savored.


I haven't met anyone other than my wife and sister-in-law (a vegetarian) who doesn't enjoy eating harisa. On a cold winter morning it's impossible not to. Quoting my mother, it sticks to your ribs--an ultimate comfort food.

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Blogger Marash Girl said...
Sounds absolutely delicious, especially with the melted butter and WITHOUT the chicken. Traditionally, was it cooked for any particular holiday?

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
Do you eat it without chicken?

Anyway, the only holiday that I know of where it is eaten is in Musa Ler, which is a village on the road to Ejmiadzin from Yerevan. Every year on the third weekend in September the people there--who were descendants of those who fled Musa Ler--hold a festival where they hand out free harisa to anyone who goes. I don't remember what the occasion is of the festival, though. I remember when my grandfather died harisa was served for the memorial dinner (hoke jash), but I still don't know why they decided upon that meal.

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