Harissa (Armenian: հարիսա harisa) is an Armenian dish from the Ararat plain. It is a thick porridge made from korkot (dried or roasted cracked wheat) and fat-rich meat, usually chicken or lamb. Herbs were substituted for meat in harissa when Armenian religious days required fasting and penance. The extremely long cooking process is an essential part of the harissa tradition. Like other ritual dishes, the time taken for preparation is part of its cherished value.
The dish has been passed on since ancient times. Stories differ as to the origins of the dish. According to Armenian lore, the patron saint of Armenia, Gregory the Illuminator, was offering a meal of love and charity to the poor. There weren’t enough sheep to feed the crowds so wheat was added to the cooking pots. They noticed that the wheat was sticking to the bottom of the cauldrons. Saint Gregory advised, “Harekh! Stir it!” Thus, the name of the dish, harissa, came from the saint’s own words. Harissa has been offered as a charity meal ever since. The dish is traditionally served on Easter day. It is still prepared by many Armenians around the world and is also considered the national dish of Armenia.
Harissa is known for helping the Armenians of Musa Ler to survive during the resistance of 1915.
Harissa is also very common in Lebanese villages, across its different ethnic communities, where it is usually cooked on religious occasions in a big pot in a village gathering. Additionally, Harissa is used by the Assyrians as a dish on Eeda Zoora, Christmas, and Eeda Gura, Easter. Harissa is very similar to a popular dish among Arab countries of the Persian Gulf known as harees which is made of meat and finely ground wheat.
Harissa is very famous in Kashmir in India and it is prepared during winter.
It is similar to kashkeg, a kind of homogeneous porridge made of previously stewed and boned chicken or lamb and coarsely ground soaked wheat (typically shelled wheat).
- 500 g (2½ cups) pearl barley, soaked overnight
- 1.8 kg whole chicken
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin, plus extra, to serve
- 150 g butter, chopped
- 2 teaspoon berbere (see notes)
- Drain pearl barley and rinse under cold running water. Place in a large saucepan, cover with 2½ of water and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, adding more water if necessary, for 2½ hours or until water is absorbed and barley is very soft; don’t stir too often as this will cause barley to stick to the pan.
- Halfway through pearl barley cooking, place the chicken in a stockpot and cover with water. Bring to the boil, skimming any impurities that rise to the surface, then reduce heat to medium and cook for 1 hour or until chicken is cooked through and starting to fall apart. Remove chicken from water and reserve 1½ litres of the stock. When chicken is cool enough to handle, using your fingers, finely shred the meat, removing and discarding the skin and bones.
- Add shredded chicken and 1L reserved chicken stock to the cooked pearl barley. Place pan over low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or until thick. Blend with a handheld blender until the consistency of fine porridge; add more of the reserved 500ml stock if necessary to achieve the desired consistency. Season with salt, white pepper and cumin.
- Just before serving, melt butter in a small pan and cook until a nut-brown colour. Pour over harissa. Serve with extra cumin and the berbere sprinkled over.