Carrot halwa/halva or Gajar ka halwa/halva

WARNING!! This dish is not for the lactose-intolerant or those watching their waistlines. Once-a-year is about the right frequency for this dish. 

Halwa (or halva) is a kind of dense dessert that takes many different forms and is consumed in many different countries around the world. Wikipedia says that the following countries produce and consume some kind of halwa –  Albania, Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, Egypt, Greece and Cyprus, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria,, Libya and Tunisia, Lithuania, Palestine, Republic of Macedonia, Malta, Myanmar, Pakistan, Poland, Romania and Moldova, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, Turkey and United States. This is pretty amazing given that for most of my life, I’d only met 2 types of halwa – carrot and beetroot. In Melbourne however, I met the Lebanese halwa made with tahini (sesame paste), ridiculous amounts of sugar and pistachios – yumm!

In most cases, halwa refers to a dense, sugar-rich and hence, calorie-rich dessert. My partner calls it “Diabetes-in-a-block” or “Heart-attack-in-a-bowl” but having grown up eating Indian halwa (amongst other sweets), I have a soft spot for halwa. When I was young, I remember mum making two kinds of halwa – one with carrot and one with beetroot. All I remember is that it would take her forever to make.  Much of the process involved reducing the vegetable, sugar and milk down to a thick sweet paste. The end result, in my opinion, was delicious and totally worth the wait. Perhaps that also had something to do with the fact that mum only made it once or twice a year, given it was such an arduous process.

When I moved to Melbourne to do my PhD,  I lived in an apartment on my own for the first year and a bit. There, I spent many an evening experimenting in my studio kitchen. This kitchen was equipped with 2 electric plates and a convectional microwave (One that can perform the task of a microwave and an oven). My heart almost stopped when I first saw that there was no regular oven but the convectional microwave yielded many a tasty cake and tart. Hooray for technology!

It was in this microwave that I made my very first halwa – a microwave carrot halwa and the recipe is one I follow even today. It doesn’t take as long as mum’s used to on the stove and is practically a one-pot dessert.  Given how rich it is, the serving sizes ought to be really small and hence this dessert can come in handy if you have a large number of guests. Hope you like it !

Carrot halwa

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Sanjeev Kapoor’s Navratan Korma or Nine-gem korma

As the name indicates, this recipe is from my North Indian food guru – Sanjeev Kapoor. It features in his book “How to Cook Indian”. This book is different from most of my cookbooks in that there are no pictures. It is nearly 600 pages of recipes – joy!

Before I give you the recipe for this korma, a little bit of background and history. “Navratan” is an amalgam of the words “Nav” meaning nine and “ratan” meaning gems or precious stones. My first introduction to this term was when we studied Indian history in school and we learnt about Mughal (Muslim) rulers. The Muslim rulers brought amazing architecture to India such as the Taj Mahal , art and of course, some of the richest and decadent food that India is still known for. The most famous of the Mughal rulers was Akbar the Great (grandfather of Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal). Despite being illeterate,  Akbar liked to be surrounded by intelligent and talented people. He appointed 9 such people who were also his advisers and friends and he called them “Navratan” or his nine gems.

This dish is named Navratan korma as it contains 9 different, pretty components. The gravy itself is pale so as to allow  “9 gems” to stand out. I have given you the original recipe which serves 4. The pictures show you almost 3 times the quantity as I made this dish for a dinner party with nearly 40 people. This wasn’t the only dish at the party so the quantity was just right. In fact, I managed to keep a bowl of it at home which served us for lunch the next day.

Hope you like it as much as we did ! Also, check out my mum’s South Indian vegetable kurma. Can you tell the difference ?

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