Hrisseh is a rich porridge prepared to commemorate the feast of the assumption of the Virgin Mary, celebrated by Christians in Lebanon on 15 August.
Similarly, Muslims also prepare hrisseh to celebrate the end of Ashoura, a feast celebrated by the Shiaa community all around the country.
Village dwellers, guests and passers-by gather around a hot cauldron and take turns mixing the porridge as it slowly cooks for hours over a coal fire. The fire is continuously fed with dry pieces of wood and logs; this allows the flavors of the meat to seep into the wheat, while the fire gives the mix a smoky taste.
Hrisseh is comfort food to most Lebanese and is loved by all. On the day of the feast, every member of the family as well as guests and even complete strangers are given a small plateful of rich hrisseh. Some will eat around the cauldron, sharing stories, while others settle for a quiet spot with the family to enjoy the laboriously prepared meal.
There are different variations to hrisseh. Typically, large chunks of meat (beef or lamb) are used with added thick lamb bones to make the stock richer. The meat tenderizes during the cooking process and turns into bits and shreds. A lighter variation of this dish uses chicken as a substitute. Using a mixture of meats is also acceptable.
As hrisseh requires a long time to cook, many will shy away from making it and only wait for yearly village fairs to enjoy it. Thankfully, there are ways to make the process easier and less time-consuming. Barbara Massaad, author, photographer and food consultant, gives us a quick and easy way to make hrisseh.
- 500g hulled wheat
- 1 kg cubed meat shanks
- 500g - 1 kg lamb bones (use less if you want lighter results)
- ½ tsp peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Sea salt
- To save time, soak the wheat overnight.
- Next day, place meat and bones in a pot filled with cold water and bring to a boil; skim away any froth.
- Add peppercorns, bay leaves, a cinnamon stick and salt— use coarse salt for best results.
- Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for at least 1½ to 2 hours. You will obtain a rich stock, strain through a sieve. In a double boiler, empty the stock adding the chunks of meat and the soaked wheat. You may add the bones too if you like, some prefer a very rich flavor.
- Bring to a boil then leave to simmer until the wheat is cooked. The meat will dissolve into the wheat therefore making the porridge very chewy and robust. You may need to add additional water as it cooks if the liquid evaporates too quickly.
- Serve warm in medium-size bowls.
You can substitute the meat shanks with a large cooked chicken (use free-range or organic for best results). Use the stock of the chicken to cook the wheat. Follow the same procedure as mentioned above. Lamb bones can be added for extra flavor.