Hye Thyme Cafe: Harissa (Armenian Chicken Porridge?)

Welcome to the Hy
e Thyme Cafe. Although not all of my recipes are Armenian, the name is a little nod to my Armenian grandmother who is no longer with us. The Hye refers to all things related to her homeland, and she represents all things food-related to me, so the two just seemed to go together. I can't even claim that my Armenian recipes are truly Armenian, since Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, and even Egypt share so many foods that they've all sort of morphed into one over thousands of years.

Whether you like to cook, bake, have never done either, or just like to play with your food...come on in and join me! :)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Harissa (Armenian Chicken Porridge?)

Harissa : Hye Thyme Cafe

As a kid, the mere mention of this dish was enough to send me running. It wasn't until about six months ago, when I decided to make my annual attempt at choking down a bowl of oatmeal, that I gave this dish another look. I love oatmeal bread, oatmeal cookies, etc., but trying to eat a bowl of oatmeal has always reminded me of the kid in elementary school who used to eat the jars of paste. I just can't do it! I read somewhere about athletes incorporating chicken into their oatmeal for extra protein and thought hmmmm, I'm no athlete, but that might help. I tried it, threw in a few other ingredients, and now I eat oatmeal all the time. Having crossed that hurdle, I decided to give Harissa a shot. According to Wikipedia, it's the National Dish of Armenia, so I kinda felt obligated to at least try it again.

The first problem I had was that one of the ingredients was Dzedzads. No, that's not a typo. Well, maybe it is, but it's phonetically correct anyhow. What the heck is Dzedzads? My grandmother passed away years ago, so I asked my Mom, and her sister, and was met with identical blank stares, shoulder shrugs and  the response "Dzedzuds." Apparently, growing up in Watertown, MA, known as "Little Armenian," gave them the benefit of not having to translate things to English at the markets. They both only knew it by its Armenian name. That didn't help me any. It took a little online research to figure out it was a form of wheat - which form is apparently up for debate.

My next problem was the process itself. That's one of the things that would send me running as a kid. It required cooking down whole chickens until they disintegrated, then beating the crap out of them with a wooden spoon, skimming the fat, removing the skin, and searching for every little bone, piece of cartilage, gristle, etc.  Uhh yah, no thanks! OK, so forget about doing this "old school," time to bust out the slow cooker and come up with a cheat.  

Because I'm not using whole chickens, I did add some stock base, but if you want, I suppose you could throw in a few legs - those bones should be easy enough to fish out, or if you cooked a whole chicken recently and saved the carcass for stock, you could tie it up in cheesecloth so you could easily pull it out later.

2 lb boneless/skinless white meat chicken
1 c hulless barley
1/2 c soft wheat (wheatberries)
32 oz. + chicken broth
1 t chicken stock base
salt and pepper

When I went in search of my ingredients the first time around, I had read that the Dzedzads were wheatberries, which I remembered as a grain used in the bread at a local lunch spot I used to order from when living in New Orleans. That made sense to me, but what do I know? I use Bulghar Wheat a lot for Tabouli, etc., and knew that wasn't the right kind. When I got to the store, there were a variety of wheat options, but none were labeled as wheatberries. I played Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Mo and went with the Soft Wheat.

My grandmother's recipe just called for "raw" barley. It didn't give me any specifics, so I opted for the hulless. Between then and now, I have used Pearled Barley a few times in another recipe, and it seems to cook a lot faster, so I'm thinking I might try that next time.

Take your chicken out of the fridge to warm up at bit so it doesn't seize up when it goes for a swim. In a crock pot or ovenproof covered pan, pour in 32 oz chicken broth, then add the barley, wheat, and chicken stock base. Let that boil for about 15 minutes or so, giving it a stir now and again, then turn the temp to low if using the crock pot OR preheat your oven to 250. You will see that the grains have puffed up some as they started to cook and soak up the chicken broth. 

Now that the grains have gotten a head start in softening up, go ahead and nestle the chicken in on top of it, pop the top on and let it cook for several hours until soft. I forgot someone borrowed our crock pot, so I threw mine in the oven tonight.

Some people like it mushier than others. We like a little chew to it, so just taste test a few of the grains of wheat/barley to decide when it's done. By then, the chicken will already be shreddable. You can either use the two-fork method like if you were making pulled pork, or you might have one of these handy dandy Mix 'N Chop tools we picked up at a Pampered Chef party a while back. It comes in really handy for breaking up ground beef and that sort of thing, and since it's nylon, it won't hurt your pans! Or ... if you've got an immersion blender and are using a pan it won't mangle, go ahead and give that a whirl around the block. Whatever it easier for you and will achieve a texture you like. If you want it thinner, just add some more broth, or a little water.

Be sure to taste before seasoning with salt and pepper. I usually use TONS of pepper on everything, but since I started off with some soup base, I didn't add any salt up front. You might not need it at all.

To serve, scoop into a bowl, top with a pat of butter and a sprinkle of paprika (I've read a lot of blogs talking about using cumin as well), and dig in! It's the perfect weather right now for a bowl of this good-for-you,  stick-to-your-ribs dish!

Harissa : Hye Thyme Cafe


  1. Very, very interesting recipe. I am into using different grains etc. This recipe sounds so good.

  2. Thanks Patti. Now that I've seen that most other people include cumin, I kinda want to try that next time, but I might have to just add it to half, just in case. I love cumin, but you know how you get used to something a certain way ...


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