May 8, 2023
Akbar, one of the most influential Mughal emperors, predominantly followed a vegetarian diet. Legend has it that the ruler began eating vegetarian food three days a week, likely due to his marriages to Hindu princesses, before completely losing his affinity for meat. But despite the Mughal ruler’s disenchantment, the Ain-i-Akbari, a 16th-century document that chronicles Akbar’s rule, outlines several pulverized meat and grain dishes.
Today, haleem — the meat, wheat, and lentil stew — is global: it is keşkek in Turkey, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Iraq; harisa in the Arab world and Armenia; and halim in Iran, West Bengal, and Bangladesh. The dish provides comfort, nourishment, and a sense of belonging that transcends geography. Haleem is difficult and time-consuming to make, usually showing up during festivities such as Ramadan. But today, chefs are bringing the delicacy to restaurant menus and even shipping it to our homes, making it more accessible than ever before.