Who am I? What is the meaning of life? What should I do with the Thanksgiving turkey leftovers?
These are age old existential questions we angst over. I confess I’m still grappling with the first two but I do have an idea how to transform the all-American leftover turkey into a nourishing, comforting food with a philosophical Persian flair. That cunning dish being none other than ‘halim‘: a slow-cooked porridge made with wheat (usually, or bulgur) and meat (lamb, chicken, or turkey) topped with a generous drizzle of melted butter and sprinkled with just enough sugar and cinnamon to delight one’s inner child.
Nutritious and highly caloric, halim is traditionally served as a hearty breakfast, often in cool seasons — best suited for days of vigorous activity or hard work, but equally delicious when one is hardly working as well.
Before the advent of food processors, making halim required patient commitment and a good bit of elbow grease. Turning hard grains of wheat into a creamy paste by hand is not the work of the meek. My mom tells tales of neighbors pulling all-nighters, making halim in big pots called ‘patil’ — stirring, stirring, stirring — using wooden spoons with very long handles (“almost resembling oars“) while chanting ‘salavat’ and reciting prayers. “Basically, they were meditating while cooking it!” Mom observes.
It bears mention that halim is a type of dish that is among the ‘nazri’ food — like halva, or sholeh zard — that is to say among the traditional class of edible fare that the devout in Iran make and distribute to the needy as alms during the holy month of Ramadan, and also at anytime during the year as a vow and gesture of either hope or thankfulness that a specific prayer will be or has been answered.
There are cafes and little hole-in-the-wall eateries in Iran that make nothing but halim. During my epic trip to Iran, one of my school friends insisted on taking me to a famous halim shop in Tajrish Square to stock up some for next days’s breakfast and even though it was quite late at night, people were in long lines buying big buckets of halim to take home for their own breakfast. Here’s the thing though, that halim was kind of OK but the most delicious halim I’ve had to taste was one made by Taste of Persia, right here in New York, in the fair isle of Manhattan. If you’re in the neighborhood, you have got to try it! It’ll make you a convert.
In the Iranian American community at large, halim seems to be gaining a foothold as the thing to make during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. This is based on my entirely unscientific anecdotal observation! To wit: I got the bright idea of making halim to use up the leftover turkey, and I thought I was oh so clever, but texting with a friend in California, she said she was just about to make halim for her boys! The next day, another friend on Facebook said she loves to make leftover turkey halim as well — she makes hers by folding in heavy cream instead of broth or water by the way and tops it with plenty of brown sugar, which sounds truly yum and decadent.
Thing is, Thanksgiving turkey halim doesn’t have to be the exclusive domain of the Iranians in diaspora. It makes delicious sense to use up leftovers in a slow cooked way that adds a leisurely touch of grace to a day off from work, and to make a comfort food that blends flavors and transforms and ultimately transcends what was left over to what will be in its own stellar class, to be coveted and craved. Gobble, gobble! Persian style!
[recipe title=”Halim ‘e Gandom | (Persian) Wheat & Turkey Porridge ” servings=”6-8″ time=”2hr 30mins not including prep time” difficulty=”not too hard”]
- 1 pound pelted wheat (approximately 2 cups)
- 1 pound turkey (leftovers would be great!)
- 10 cups water
- salt (1 tablespoon, more or less to taste)
- cinnamon (sprinkled to taste)
- 1/2 to 1/4 cup butter (melted, hot)
- sugar (white or brown, whichever you prefer, to taste)
- Prep by soaking wheat in 4-5 cups of water for at least 90 minutes.
- Heat turkey left overs with 1/2 cup of water, and cook till water evaporates. (If you don’t have leftovers, cook turkey with some water, a dash of salt per your usual method till tender.) Shred turkey meat with fingers or using a fork. Set aside. (Note: avoid using too much salt, as you’ll garnish the final dish with sugar.)
- Drain wheat and transfer to a large pot. Add 6 cups of water. Gently boil for a few minutes, then reduce heat to low and cook for one hour, uncovered. During this time, stir the pot frequently to prevent wheat sticking to the pot and add more water if necessary. Remove pot from the stove and allow cooked wheat to cool.
- Once cool, transfer in batches to a food processor; pulse to a creamy puree texture.
- Return pureed wheat to the pot. Add the shredded turkey plus one cup of water. Cook over low heat – adding the remaining cups of water at intervals (as the liquid is absorbed by the porridge) and stir frequently. Simmer in this fashion for 30-40 or until the mixture has achieved a desirable creamy, smooth, somewhat stretchy texture.
Serve hot, hot, hot! Spoon some into individual serving bowls and top with hot melted butter and as much sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon as your lovely little heart desires!
Make it, eat it, and noosh’eh jaan!