Somali bariis and hilib ari

 In Arts and Culture

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Somali bariis and hilib ari

I knew that having lunch with Rahmo and Abdi in their City Heights home was going to be filled with good food and laughter. I had asked Rahmo if she would show me how to prepare a typical Somali meal and she invited me over on a warm summer day to learn how to cook Somali bariis (rice) and hilib ari (goat) from recipes she learned as a teenager from her mother. As she chopped and stirred, I scribbled notes, Abdi demonstrated his famous papaya-slicing skills, and the two of them affectionately bantered back and forth. Work should always be this relaxing and fun.

Somali bariis and hilib ari

The bariis we enjoyed was dotted with raisins, delicately tinted by saffron, and had a flavor that was deepened by the cooking broth from the meat. It’s made with basmati rice, a fragrant, long grain variety that is a staple in the Somali diet.

Somali bariis and hilib ari

Fresh ginger added during the cooking process tenderized the hilib ari, which was simmered, then pan fried and garnished with green bell peppers and red onions. Where can you find fresh goat meat? Your best options are to turn to smaller markets and butchers. Rahmo made her purchase at Minnehaha Food Market on University Avenue in City Heights. If you go there, be sure to tell the staff what you’re making and they’ll help you find the other ingredients you’ll need.

As we ate, Rahmo explained that a Somali meal might feature meat, rice and bananas, and fresh fruit; desserts are usually reserved for snack times. She served her bariis and hilib ari with ripe bananas, sliced fruit, and a salad of sliced lettuce, tomatoes, onion, cucumber, and tomatillo dressed simply with lemon juice and a pinch of salt.

Somali bariis and hilib ari

You can check out more pictures from our cooking session on Flickr.

Rahmo’s Somali Bariis and Hilib Ari

As with many family recipes, the ingredients for this dish are measured by memory and “feel”; the specific numbers we have provided are estimates. Generously serves six.

For the bariis (rice)

    4 cups basmati rice
    4 cups water
    1/2 large red onion, sliced
    1/4 cup olive oil
    1 bunch fresh cilantro
    1 head of garlic, peeled
    1 tbsp ground cumin
    2 tbsp dry curry mix
    2 tbsp cardamom seeds, ground
    A small handful of whole cinnamon
    3 tsp chicken bouillon
    1/4 cup raisins
    1-1/3 tsp saffron

For the hilib ari (goat)

    6 lbs goat meat, cut into large pieces
    2 large knobs of fresh ginger, cut into chunks
    2 tsp chicken bouillon
    1/2 tsp ground cumin
    1 tsp dry curry mix
    1/2 tsp masala
    3/4 cup olive oil
    1 green bell pepper – cut half of it into slices and the rest into large chunks
    1 large red onion, sliced
    1/4 tsp saffron


Place the goat and ginger in a large pot. Add enough water to cover; bring to a boil, then simmer for 30-60 minutes.

While the goat is simmering, soak the rice in four cups of water and set aside.

Using a blender or a food processor, combine the cilantro and garlic with enough water to make a thin sauce; set aside. You’ll use this for both the rice and the meat.

In an ovenproof pot, sauté the onion in the olive oil until golden brown. Add two large spoonfuls of the cilantro-garlic sauce you made earlier to the pan and stir.

Drain the soaking water from the rice. Add the rice to the pot with the onions; stir in the cinnamon and chicken bouillon. Add spoonfuls of the cooking broth from the simmering meat; you’ll need to use enough to just cover the rice. Put a lid on the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally. Preheat oven to 350°F.

Once the water has cooked off, place the rice in the oven for 30 minutes. Add the raisins and saffron, being careful not to overstir as it will break up the rice. The rice is now ready and can be transferred to a serving dish.

We used an electric frying pan to finish preparing the goat, but you can also use a regular frying pan on the stove. Be sure to set your electric pan or burner to medium.

In a small pot, mix together 5 tsp of the cilantro-garlic sauce with the chicken bouillon, ground cumin, and curry mix. Stir well, then add the masala for color until combined and remove from heat.

Drain the remaining cooking broth from the meat and remove the ginger. Pour 1/2 cup of olive oil in the frying pan, then add the meat and stir occasionally.

When the meat turns golden brown, add the mixture from the small pot along with the green bell pepper chunks and half of the onion. Simmer an additional 10-15 minutes to cook off some of the moisture, then remove from heat and transfer to a serving dish.

For the garnish: In a small pan, mix the remaining olive oil, green bell pepper slices, and the rest of the red onion. Stir in the saffron. Simmer until the vegetables are softened, then spoon the mixture on top of the meat.

Cooking notes

There’s no need to salt the meat or the rice before cooking; the bouillon and curry mix added in later steps will provide enough salt for each dish.

Cinnamon and cardamom seeds are used in Somalia to flavor chai tea.

Masala is a mixture of aromatic spices and other ingredients, such as garlic or onions. It can be found dried or in a paste. There are many varieties available, and we recommend experimenting to find one you enjoy.

The dry curry mix we used can add heat to your dish! Add more or less to taste. You should be able to find several varieties of dry curry mixes with varying levels of heat at your local grocery store.

Like your food really spicy? Combine the following ingredients in a blender or food processor to use as a condiment for the biliis:

    12-15 green chili peppers, with the tops cut off and sliced into rounds
    2 tomatillos, cut into quarters
    2 tbsp mayonnaise
    1/2 tsp kosher salt
    juice of 1 lime
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