Pakistani Haleem by Whitney Lewis

Haleem, a popular Pakistani dish, is a meat and lentil stew slow cooked with Indian spices. It is a high fat, high calorie fare that is often times enjoyed by Muslims to break the fast during the month of Ramadan, a fast that prohibits any food or liquids from dusk until dawn. Since Ramadan lasts for a full month, it is necessary to have foods that will provide a high caloric intake to keep you going for the full 30 days and meet a decent amount of your nutrient needs for one day.

My brother-in-law is Pakistani and he regales me with stories of his youth spent in Karachi, a coastal town in the south of Pakistan. During lunch breaks at school the “Haleem wala” pushes a wooden cart with a big clay pot filled with hot Haleem that is ladled out into paper bowls and topped with fried onions, jalapeno peppers, and cilantro for just a few rupees. It is considered food for commoners and never served at dinner parties except during Ramadan. He describes it as the Pakistani equivalent of a hot dog.

I checked several Indian and Pakistani restaurants and Haleem was not available on any of the menus so with the help of some family members I attempted to cook the dish myself.

The recipe called for a full cup and a half of ghee (clarified butter), in which a pound and a half roast was cooked with a Haleem mix that can be purchased at any Indian food store. We then added water and lentils and let it slow roast for seven hours adding fried onions and cilantro and limes as toppings. The dish was incredibly spicy and flavorful and I felt my body temperature rising with every bite. I also found that Haleem was incredibly hearty and after just one bowl I was feeling full.

Some of the health benefits of Haleem are derived from its many spices. Turmeric and nigella seed’s have anti-inflammatory properties, assist in the management of diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes and aid as a natural liver detoxifier. Papain and black pepper help promote digestion and are beneficial in preventing digestive disorders such diarrhea, IBS, and stomach ulcers. Curry leaf and coriander improve the function of stomach and small intestine and help treat diarrhea. Many of the spices aid fat metabolism and weight management and are high in iron, dietary fiber, and vitamins A & B. Many of the spices have been proven to lower cholesterol as well. The dish is very high in protein (from the meat and lentils), which aid in building and repairing muscle tissue, creating enzymes and hormones, and promoting hair and nail growth.

Even though Haleem is high in fat and cholesterol, due to the active life style of most Pakistani’s along with portion control and the infrequency in which its eaten, Haleem doesn’t seem to be having a negative impact on Pakistan’s waist line. Because this dish also offers so many vitamins and minerals, it serves not only to satiate hunger after a long day of fasting, it also provides people with important nutrients necessary for maintaining health. Perhaps if American’s utilized these same good eating habits, they too would be able to enjoy such rich foods with out negative health ramifications such as obesity and type two diabetes. American’s could stand to learn a lesson from the story of this ethnic meal – do not restrict yourself, enjoy life and all its bounties, but do so in moderation.

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