HARISSA, Hrisseh | Armenian Beef + Wheat Porridge Recipe


HARISSA, Hrisseh | Armenian Beef + Wheat Porridge Recipe

Harissa, humble in composition yet carries the weight of a nation.  A national dish of Armenia, Harissa was served to pilgrims and the poor in Armenian monasteries since antiquity.  It represents the courage of our Armenian people during the 1915 resistance to the Armenian Genocide in Musa Ler, a mountainous village located on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

To this day, Armenians in Armenia and the Diaspora gather to celebrate the persistence and escape of our predecessors.  An annual Harissa festival takes place every mid-September during which oversized copper pots of Harissa are cooked all night long and shared with locals and visitors in the morning.

In Armenia, celebratory events are held around The Musa Ler Memorial, a monumental sculpture and museum denoting the victory of Armenians in the battle.  In Lebanon, Armenians gather in Anjar, a town in the Bekaa Valley where their ancestors resettled during the events of 1915.

HARISSA, Hrisseh | Armenian Beef + Wheat Porridge Recipe

Hrisseh, in Arabic, is equally common in other Lebanese communities.  Christians in Lebanon prepare it in August to commemorate the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven.  Whether during happy times or sad ones, Harissa can be found throughout the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.    It is served daily during Ramadan in the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf and shared amongst Assyrians in Iraq and the Diaspora during Easter and Christmas.

HARISSA, Hrisseh | Armenian Beef + Wheat Porridge Recipe

Harissa, Hrisseh, Keshkeg

Harissa, once cooked, is similar to a thick porridge in appearance, but is unlike those we generally associate with like oatmeal or grits.  It is neither a breakfast cereal nor a snack; rather a complete nutritional one-dish meal.  A mush of two basic ingredients:  meat and wheat berries.

On today’s post I am using Chuck roast trimmed and cut into large cubes.  Tri-Tip works well too in this recipe.  English-cut Short Ribs is yet another option, but buy more than 2 1/2 lbs if getting bone-in cuts of meat.


HARISSA, Hrisseh | Armenian Beef + Wheat Porridge Recipe

beef + wheat berries


HARISSA, Hrisseh | Armenian Beef + Wheat Porridge Recipe

A sturdy wooden paddle-spatula-spoon or a large base wooden meat stomper is used to mix and mash Harissa as you stir and cook it down to a creamy porridge.  The paddle featured here was custom made for me by a local artisan.  Just to give you a size reference, it is sitting on a 10-quart pressure cooker and measures 17-inches long by 3″ wide.

HARISSA, Hrisseh | Armenian Beef + Wheat Porridge Recipe



HARISSA, Hrisseh | Armenian Beef + Wheat Porridge Recipe

before + after


HARISSA, Hrisseh | Armenian Beef + Wheat Porridge Recipe

The recipe posted here is very basic.  It does not reflect changes in territory, local ingredients and creativity of people nor personal preferences.  It is just the way Armenian monks prepared it in ancient times.  I myself substitute chicken for beef, love to add layers of flavor and cook it down to a creamier consistency.  That’s a whole new blog post for another day!

HARISSA, Hrisseh | Armenian Beef + Wheat Porridge Recipe

Harissa is served hot topped with melted clarified butter, red pepper flakes and cumin or with chili oil.

HARISSA, Hrisseh | Armenian Beef + Wheat Porridge Recipe



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1 2/3-to-2 cups pearled wheat berries
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 lbs trimmed meat, cut into large cubes
* I like to use Chuck roast, Tri-Tip roast or English-cut short ribs
7 cups cold water, plus more as needed
clarified butter or olive oil
red Aleppo pepper and cumin

Thoroughly rinse wheat berries in cold water, drain and transfer into a medium pot.  Add sugar and enough water to cover grains by 3-inches.   Bring to a fast boil then turn off heat.  Remove white foam forming on the surface.  Cover pot and set on the counter for two hours or more while you prep remaining ingredients.

Add 7 cups of water to pressure cooker and bring to a boil.  Carefully drop meat pieces into pot, bring it back to a rolling boil, and then turn it down to a low simmer.  Skim off any foam that forms on the surface.  Close the lid and wait for the pressure to build up.  Start cooking under pressure for 30 minutes.

If need to, drain wheat berries that have been soaking in water.  Do not rinse.

Once pressure is released, open lid and ladle meat into a bowl.  Strain broth using a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl then return back to pressure cooker with meat pieces.  Add wheat berries, cover, and cook under pressure for 60-to-80 minutes.

Release pressure once more and cook porridge uncovered, stirring with a large wooden spatula spoon, until thickened  and cooked to your liking; adding more boiling water if need to.  Turn off heat and season with salt.

Melt butter or heat olive oil in a saucepan, add a little red pepper and stir cook for about a minute before you add the cumin.

Serve Harissa hot with spiced butter/oil drizzled on top. Or, have the butter, red pepper and cumin individually on the side for everyone to add as they like.


HARISSA, Hrisseh | Armenian Beef + Wheat Porridge Recipe


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