Harissa is a dish in Armenia that is often associated with special occasions. Many refer to Harissa as the national dish of Armenia. The classic version is made from two main ingredients: cracked wheat (essentially a precursor to bulgur) and meat, usually chicken or lamb. The dish is cooked slowly, sometimes for many hours, until the wheat and meat fully combine into a creamy, porridge-like consistency. The preparation is time-consuming, and the cooking requires constant stirring to prevent the porridge from burning. Butter is added to the hot harissa before serving.
Harissa has deep cultural and historical roots in Armenia. It is often prepared during religious and national holidays and holds a significant place in memorial events for the Armenian genocide. This dish reportedly sustained the Armenian people during tough times, serving both as a hearty meal and a symbol of unity and resilience. From these times, there are much simpler versions of harissa – meatless versions where cabbage, walnuts, or beet greens are used instead of meat.
Harissa is essentially a distant relative of Italian risotto. Like risotto, it requires constant stirring, and it’s also a simple dish made from humble ingredients. Some Armenian chefs experiment with other grains, such as quinoa or farro, aiming to prepare a gluten-free version of the dish. Adding coriander or parsley just before serving gives a fresh twist to the traditional recipe. Likewise, harissa can be served with yogurt or sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.
I tasted the chicken harissa in the Lavash restaurant in Yerevan, one portion cost 1,300 AMD (approximately 3.20 EUR). It’s truly a very hearty dish that reliably satisfies for a long time.
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