This recipe will challenge everything you ever thought you knew about both porridge and harissa. Like most people in this part of the world, porridge for us is a breakfast food (or, admittedly for Miranda, a lazy dinner), with a base of oats and greatly improved by such additions as cinnamon, honey, peanut butter or, for a festive twist, fruit mince (seriously – try it). Likewise, as far as we knew, harissa was a delicious chilli paste used in North African cuisine.
Then we searched for ‘Armenian national dish.’
Armenia lies in the mountains between Asia and Europe, and its cuisine is characterised by fresh ingredients, and wheat in a variety of forms. If its national dish of harissa is anything to go by, simplicity is also key, as this dish really only has two main ingredients: wheat and chicken. We opted for a recipe from SBS because it used pearl barley (which we could easily get hold of) rather than wheat (which we couldn’t). It’s therefore not 100% traditional, but seems to be pretty close.
500g pearl barley, soaked overnight
1.8kg whole chicken
1 tbsp ground cumin, plus extra to serve
Salt and white pepper
150g butter, chopped
2 tsp berbere (see recipe below)
1. Drain the soaked pearl barley and rinse under cold running water. Place in a large saucepan, cover with 2.5L water and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, adding more water if necessary, for 2.5 hours or until water is absorbed and barley is very soft. Don’t stir too often as this will cause the barley to stick to the pan.
2. Halfway through the pearl barley cooking, place the chicken in a stockpot and cover with water. Bring to the boil, skimming if necessary, then reduce heat to medium and cook for 1 hour or until chicken is cooked through and starting to fall apart.
3. Remove the chicken from the water and reserve 1.5L stock (or reserve all of it for future use like we did!).
4. When chicken is cool enough to handle (or immediately if you’re impatient), finely shred the meat, removing and discarding the skin and bones.
5. Add shredded chicken and 1L reserved stock to the cooked pearl barley. Place pan over low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or until thick.
6. Blend with a stick blender until the consistency of fine porridge, adding more stock if necessary. Season with salt, white pepper and cumin.
7. 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.
Serves 7 (with vegetable accompaniments – see below)
Berbere is an Ethiopian spice mix, so we’re not really sure what it’s doing in an Armenian recipe, but it did add flavour. Apparently it’s available in some spice shops, but we made our own according to a recipe from Epicurious. We halved these quantities and still had a bit left over, but we plan to use it as a spice rub or similar.
1/2 tsp ground fenugreek seeds
1/2 cup ground dried chillies
1/4 cup paprika
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground all spice
Mix everything together.
When we first read the harissa recipe, we decided we needed a vegetable side dish, so looked up some Armenian recipes, most of which bore a significant resemblance to ratatouille – again, not terribly Armenian, but suited our purposes. We opted for khorvadzed vegetables (otherwise known as Armenian ratatouille!) with a recipe provided by The Gutsy Gourmet.
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 aubergine, diced
2 courgettes, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
1. If you can be bothered, remove the skin and seeds from the tomatoes. If you can’t, just chop them up and there’ll be no further problems!
2. Heat the oil in a deep, heavy saucepan. Add the onion, garlic and 1 tbsp of the parsley. Sauté for about 3 minutes, or until onion is soft.
3. Add the aubergine, courgette and red pepper and mix well.
4. Cover the pan and simmer over a low heat until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Keep an eye on it to make sure it isn’t sticking and burning.
5. Add the tomatoes, stir well, cover again and simmer for 10 further minutes.
6. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.
7. Add the vinegar and black pepper to taste and stir well.
8. Serve garnished with the rest of the parsley.
That’s the pearl barley cooking… there’s now a few missing photos of the process due to them having been taken on a now-defunct device…
Appetising, isn’t it?!
Then it gets even better…
The Mash household was divided on this one! Ash really resented having to eat this strange grey chickeny mush, especially when he realised that he could have roasted the same chicken with less effort and tastier results. Miranda, on the other hand, didn’t mind it (although has to agree with the preference for a roast dinner). The texture was confusing – it didn’t feel like it should taste like chicken – but the flavour was sound (if a bit repetitive), and the burnt butter and berbere mix lifted it. No prizes for guessing who’s going to end up eating the leftover portion that is currently in our freezer!
In terms of flavour profile, the khorvadzed vegetables didn’t perfectly match the harissa on the plate (or the palate), but they were a good way of getting our five a day, and certainly likeable (even though they were somewhat caramelised thanks to our neglect of the pan…). That said, we’d still prefer a regular ratatouille, as this one seemed unnecessarily vinegary.
So all in all: an interesting experiment and exploration of Armenian cuisine, but not one that is likely to be repeated!