February 11, 2021
Halwa may seem traditional to many of us from South Asia, but like so many other foods, it probably came to us via the Persians and Ottoman Turks.
Halwa, halvah or halva, is a confection that has many iterations depending on the provenance, yet the common theme remains that it is a sweet hash made of roasted or fried flour, usually semolina, sweetened with honey, dates or sugar and flavored with aromatic spices such as saffron, cardamom and rose water. If you are using saffron, giving it a day to soak in milk will bring out its flavors even more.
Sometimes, instead of flour, halwa is made from sesame seeds or nuts. I’ve always suspected that cream of wheat, a popular American breakfast, has roots in halwa — if you like cream of wheat, you will love halwa. The best part is that it is quick and easy to make and tastes delicious warm, at room temperature or cold straight out of the fridge. I added a touch of beet juice to give it a bright-pink color. If you are looking for a sweet start or a finish for Valentine’s Day, give this a shot.
Serves 3 to 4
Pinch of saffron
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup ghee, plus more for finishing
1 cup semolina
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup cane sugar
1 teaspoon rose water
2 tablespoons beet juice (optional)
1/2 cup heavy cream
Sliced almonds, pomegranate seeds, or rose petals for garnish
Combine the saffron with the milk and refrigerate the day before or at least a couple of hours before starting the halwa.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the ghee and add the semolina. Together they should form a roux-like mass; on low heat, fry it for 4 to 5 minutes or until the semolina turns golden brown. If the mixture appears dry, add a tablespoon or two more of ghee. Next stir in the cardamom, cinnamon, and sugar.
While stirring the halwa continuously to prevent lumps, pour in the milk with saffron and the rose water and beet juice, if using; continue cooking on low heat until the mixture comes together.
Serve the halwa warm with plain heavy cream and garnished with almonds, pomegranate seeds, or rose petals.
The mixture thickens and firms up considerably as it keeps — when reheating it, add half a cup of milk or water to bring it to a softer consistency.
To make beet juice without a juicer, grate a whole beet, and squeeze it into a strainer.
The spicing for the halwa is not limited to cardamom, cinnamon, or saffron — I have made halwa with vanilla, nutmeg, a pinch of clove, and even black pepper. The semolina will take on any of the aromatic seasonings beautifully.
December 02, 2022