Halva is on of my favorite deserts. Not only because it is simple to make, but mainly because in my eyes it is just a canvas where you can play with the spices and the flavorings you want. Traditionally this is known to be a Greek desert, however, I now that a similar variation is encountered in Turkey and in India. I will highlight the differences later on the post, but for now let me tell you more about the desert. It was originated somewhere in the middle east, most likely to the region close to India. The basic ingredients are, fat, starch and sugar. We start with the fat that will be the carrier of the flavors and intensify the sweet taste. The starch will provide the main body and structure of the desert. The sugar… Well that you can guess. The only other basic ingredient required here is a water based ingredient that will cook everything.
The regional variation depend on the different kinds of starch, fat and cooking media. So for fat you can use olive oil if you want it Greek or western Turkish. If you want the more middle eastern version you have to use butter (no margarine, no fake butter!) and of course you can use vegetable oil but then you lose half the flavor. The fat has to be highly aromatic to add nuttiness to the dish. The starch usually is a flour type starch. In Turkey it is used regular fine flour where in Greece it used semolina (coarse or fine) flour. In India it is common to use other sources as cashews and carrots. Those, however, variations alter the basic recipe so I will have them at the end. Finally the cooking medium is most of the time water, but in some cases part of it can be replaced with milk.
And the analogy of the ingredients it is the easiest to remember. 1, 2, 3, 4.
- 1 cup (or any other measuring vessel) oil
- 2 cups semolina flour
- 3 cups water
- 4 cups sugar
The aromatics is up to you, but you have to be careful not to overpower the dish and further not invite flavors that don ‘t get alone very well. So in my case I like to use cinnamon, all spice, clove and orange peal. The proportions are not fixed, but I tend to use cinnamon as the basic and the other three as satellites. so lets get started.
In one pot you heat the oil and add the semolina flour and stir vigorously. You want the semolina to be mixed nicely. Every grain must be coated thoroughly. let it on medium heat to cook. Don ‘t darken it too much, but let it take some some color and smell nutty. The mean time add the water and the sugar with the spices (4 sticks of cinnamon, 1 tsp of clove, 1 tsp of all spice and 4 orange peals, without the pith, just the outer part). Bring it to a boil and let cook till it reaches a syrupy consistency. Remove the spices and the orange peals and keep them for decoration. slowly add the syrup into the pot with semolina and the oil. Because oil can be hotter than the syrup expect some boiling and splashing. Stir very fast and in only a few minutes you will see the mixture will start setting. remove from the heat and after letting it cool for a while put in a form. I prefer a metal bowl that contacts heat faster and the halva will cool much faster! A couple of hours later you can flip it on top of a plate and you are done! I like to decorate it with the orange peals and the spices.
The Indian variation that uses carrots is different in many ways. You will need:
- 2 cups of graded carrots
- 2 cups of whole milk
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 tsp of cardamom
In this case the fat is provided by the milk. You just mix everything and you boil till they come together and becomes creamy. And that ‘s all. It is ready. You cannot form it as the greek style but it is more than… rice putting.