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Emu turns haleem healthy

- Meat of ostrich cousin low in fat

Hyderabad, July 19: The meat stew haleem has always been the heart of the Ramazan diet. Now it has been made heart-friendly.

This Ramazan, many Hyderabad eateries are selling a “health haleem” cooked with the meat of the emu, the flightless Australian bird that is a cousin of the ostrich, instead of the traditional mutton or chicken.

“I have been eating emu meat curry regularly but tasted the emu haleem for the first time this Ramazan. I loved it. It tastes just like turkey,” said Mohammed Shafi, an assistant secretary in the state Assembly.

Although the haleem costs Rs 300 a plate when made with emu meat, compared with Rs 200 for mutton and Rs 75-150 for chicken, it’s catching on because of the health benefits, especially among diabetes and hypertension patients.

Emu meat is low in fat and the “bad” LDL cholesterol and is rich in vitamins, minerals and phosphorus, found mainly in seafood.

“The taste is so good that customers are coming back for more,” said Mohammad Ravoof, whose Shahi Haleem Restaurant is among those selling the health haleem in the Old City and the Tolichowki area of Cyberabad.

The haleem is a meat “kedgeree” prepared with pounded whole wheat and the best-quality herbs and lentils, cooked over a slow fire. The thick paste is served fresh and hot with crispy fried onions and a sprinkling of lime and coriander leaves.

It has always been a staple during the fasting month of Ramazan, when it is eaten after sunset, because its assorted ingredients make it rich in both protein and carbohydrate.

“There isn’t much difference between cooking the traditional haleem and the emu haleem. The skill lies in washing the emu meat and boiling it with onions,” Ravoof said.

The development comes a year after several Hyderabad eateries secured a geographical indication (GI) status for their haleem.

Over the past 10 years, several emu farms have opened in the Telangana and coastal Andhra regions and the bird’s meat has featured in curries and biryani. But its use in the haleem this month has suddenly propelled it up the popularity charts.

Dr Syed Arif Khan, a medical practitioner, said the emu haleem has been a “boon” to people with heart ailments and high blood pressure.

Emu farmers are delighted with the development. “We are happy that people have begun realising the value of emu meat this Ramazan,” said Shamsher Khan, who runs an emu farm of 150 birds in Suryapet, 150km from here.

The emu is the world’s second-tallest bird after the ostrich. The soft-feathered brown birds can grow up to two metres (6.6ft) tall, have a long and thin neck, and long legs that allow them to travel large distances very fast.