Ramadan is a special occasion for Surendran, as this is the time when he flies down to Doha to offer his culinary services, that too just for one month.
During a period when most Indian expats travel to their home country for vacation, Surendran travels to Qatar on special duty – to prepare Harees for an Arabic family in Mamoura.
The Story of Harees
Harees or jarees, as it was called earlier, is a traditional Arabic dish made of wheat and meat and is distributed to neighbours including expatriates during Ramadan.
Around 1,400 years old, it originated in Saudi Arabia and represents the agricultural heritage of the Arabic community.
Surendran’s Qatar Connection
Hailing from Kerala’s Kollam district, Surendran had come to Qatar in 1980. He started his life as a cooking assistant and soon became a professional in Arabic cuisine. One of his specialities was the Harees which he mastered from an Omani chef.
After spending eighteen years in Qatar, Surendran returned to India in 1998. Ten years after setting up a small business in his hometown, Surendran got a call from the family he worked for, requesting his service to prepare Harees during Ramadan.
For the past seven years, Surendran comes to Doha and makes this awesome porridge for more than 300 people everyday of the holy month.
Harees – the fruit of hard labour
Harees is perhaps one of the most time consuming and difficult dishes to prepare. The preparation which begins previous night, goes on till next day’s afternoon – with only few hours of rest in between.
The process is kicked off by boiling water in a giant vessel that holds fifty kilos of wheat and forty kilos of meat. The meat is added to the water with salt and heated separating the fat with a spatula, once in a while.
Once the fat residue is cleared wheat is added and slow cooked. The harees vessel is kept closed till afternoon after which the porridge is churned with a giant churning rod to achieve the right consistency.
The churning process needs the assistance of three to four persons. A special machine has been imported from Paris just to achieve the fine final touch before ghee is added and packed in containers that are distributed to the residents of Doha.
“The secret to the cooking of harees is adjusting heat across the process. The dish can easily get scorched and needs constant stirring through the process,” says Surendran.
“I prefer the authentic style and do not add extra toppings. Harees is actually mixture of boiled, cracked, or coarsely-ground wheat and boned meat- either lamb or beef- which is cooked on a slow fire with ghee made from camel or lamb milk. While the basic stew has just salt and pepper, variations with other spices, lentils and ingredients have become popular these days,” he explains.
As Eid is celebrated, Surendran packs his bags and heads back home, hoping to return to Qatar, the next holy month.
With inputs from: Society Magazine article by Sami Said Ali – Photos: M.K. Salam