No matter what you call this dish, it’s one of the best stick-to-your-ribs winter meals ever!
I can recall Yeranuhe Nanny making herriseh with lamb – or a combination of lamb and chicken. This dish, a winter or holiday specialty, was always served with a bowl of freshly ground cumin for us to sprinkle on top.
I have to admit, when I was young this recipe did not appeal to my culinary senses; it reminded me of creamy oatmeal with meat; it simply didn’t make sense. As I got older, I must have gotten wiser, because I finally realized just how delicious – and nutritious – herriseh truly is. I guess Nanny knew best!
Herriseh, or keshkeg, combines skinless whole wheat kernels with lamb, chicken, or even turkey, with a good amount of liquid (water, broth, or a combination), salt, butter (optional), cumin, and if desired, paprika. The trick is to cook this for a very long time — without stirring — until the consistency becomes something like thick oatmeal, but much tastier! (Note: the wheat kernels, or pearled wheat – “dzedzadz”- can be purchased in most Middle Eastern stores.)
Robert Witt, a reader from Texas, wrote recently, asking if there was a recipe for this dish. He said he’d eaten herriseh in a very nice restaurant in Yerevan.
“It was made with chicken, and served with lavash, making the world seem all right – and a bit of Armenian cognac didn’t hurt the situation any, either!”
What a great reaction, especially considering that this was part of his introduction to Armenian cuisine as well as Armenian culture. He went to Armenian to visit his son, his soon-to-be daughter-in-law, who is from Armenia’s capital, and her family.
Congratulations on your son’s forth-coming wedding, Robert — and welcome to the world of Armenian food!
Here’s my version of Armenian Stew with chicken.
Chicken Herriseh (Keshkeg)
- 1 whole chicken (approximately 3 lbs)
- 8 cups water
- 2 cups whole wheat kernels (rinsed in cold water and drained)
- 2 tsp salt (or to taste)
- cumin (optional)
- paprika (optional)
- butter (optional)
- Rinse chicken. Place in large pot with 8 cups water and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Cook, with lid tilted, for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until chicken is cooked.
- Remove chicken from liquid; place on platter until cool enough to handle. Discard skin, bones and fat. Shred chicken; cut into smaller pieces, if necessary.
- Strain broth. Measure broth, and add enough water to make the 8 cups needed. (Note: Some of the original amount of water will have evaporated, so this step is important.)
- Place broth in large pot. Add wheat, shredded chicken, and salt if necessary. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low. Remove any foam which rises to the surface.
- Simmer on a very low heat, covered, for about 4 hours — without stirring! — until almost all liquid is absorbed.
- Beat vigorously with a sturdy, long-handled, wooden spoon, mashing the wheat and chicken until they resemble thick oatmeal. Adjust salt, if needed.
- To serve: place in bowls. Add a pat of butter, if desired. Sprinkle with a dash of cumin or paprika.
1. Leftover cooked chicken, lamb or turkey, and commercially prepared broth can be used to shorten preparation time.
2. Using an immersion or stick blender, instead of beating with a wooden spoon (see step #6), will save you a lot of time and energy! C.) Leftover Herriseh freezes well. Just defrost, and reheat with a little extra liquid.