Boko-boko: Swahili delicacy


In Eastern Africa, Boko-Boko (or Boku-Boku) is the name for a dish more commonly known by its Arabic name, Harees (or Harisah). It is a sort of porridge made from shredded meat, bulghur wheat or cracked wheat (as is used in Tabbouleh), and spices. Some versions are flavored with sugar or honey and milk; other versions use lemon juice. In Africa it is most popular among Swahili people of Arab ancestry. Harees was brought to Eastern Africa hundreds of years ago by Arab settlers; it is still a popular dish in the Middle East.

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What you need

  • one pound of lamb or mutton (bone-in is most authentic and gives the dish the best flavor); or any meat (chicken harees with gravy made from the chicken neck, liver and gizzard is one possibility)
  • a small cinnamon stick or one-quarter teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • one-half teaspoon cumin powder or turmeric powder (optional)
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • three or four cups of bulghur wheat or cracked wheat (rice or other grains may also be experimented with)
  • a few spoonfuls of ghee (samen), or butter (optional)

What you do

  • In a large bowl, rinse the wheat until clean. Cover it with water and let it soak for a few hours or overnight. Drain it before cooking. (Soaking is optional, but grain which has not been soaked will need longer cooking time.)
  • Place the meat in a heavy cooking pot. Add three cups of water for every cup of wheat. Add spices. Cover and bring to a boil. Cook for ten minutes.
  • Remove meat (but not broth) from cooking pot and set aside. Skim any froth from the broth and throw it away. Stir wheat into the pot, cover, and reduce heat to simmer.
  • As wheat begins to cook: Remove meat from bones. Shred or pound meat into very small pieces. Return meat to pot. Stir until meat and wheat are well mixed. Cover tightly and continue to cook for two (or four, or six) hours over very low heat. Check occasionally and add water if necessary. Some cooks put a heavy rock on the lid to keep it tight — another method: cover the pot with a sheet of aluminum foil and put the lid over the foil. (The pot could also be placed in a warm oven to allow the boko-boko to cook slowly.)
  • When wheat is tender and fully cooked: Add ghee or butter, and stir it forcefully to turn it into a smooth porridge.
  • If desired choose a flavoring option:
    • Add milk, and sugar or honey, along with the ghee or butter. (you should skip the cumin and turmeric if you plan to do so).
    • Sprinkle lemon juice over the Harees.
    • Serve Harees topped with fried onions. Lemon juice can be added also.
    • Make a gravy by boiling the meat bones with a chopped onion and the same spices used to cook the Harees. Strain and serve the hot gravy along with the Harees.

Harees (or Harisah) should not be confused with Northern Africa’s Harissa sauce or paste. (There are several variant spelling of both names, some of which are the same.) Harissa Sauce (or Paste) is a hot sauce made with hot chile peppers, garlic, cumin, coriander, caraway and olive oil. It is usually served with couscous, and is also used to in soups and stews.

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