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 !
Ingredients (Picture 1 below):
8 medium carrots, grated
200 gms (1/2 a regular UK can) of sweetened condensed milk
2 tbsp of sultanas
3 tbsp of cashews
50-80 gms of butter
1/2 tsp of ground cardamom (optional)
1. Place the grated carrot (or grate the carrot into) a medium-sized, microwave safe dish (Picture 1).
2. Heat the carrot at maximum power for 3 minutes until it is warm (Picture 2).
3. Add the condensed milk to the carrot and stir through (Picture 3).
4. For the next 10-15 minutes, cook the condensed milk-carrot mixture on maximum power in 3-minute bursts. If, like me, you had a 700W microwave which is very weak, then use 5 minute bursts at maximum power. Note that if you have a less powerful microwave like mine, this process will take nearly 25 minutes.
5. Between each burst of power, stir the mixture and flatten its top (Picture 5). The halwa is done when you see that the mixture is thick and the condensed milk has condensed so much that it looks like tiny crumbs coating the carrot (sorry I didn’t take a picture!)
6. At this point, heat the butter in a shallow pan and sauté the sultanas and cashews for 2 minutes. When the sultanas puff up and cashews go brown, they are ready to add to the carrot halwa. Add the butter in which they were cooked to the halwa too. At this time, you can also stir in ground cardamom if you like its flavour.
7. Serve 2-3 tablespoons in a small bowl while the halwa is still warm. This halwa re-heats well and keeps for a week in the fridge.
1. If you really can’t be bothered with the microwave, use the same ingredients and cook them in a pot on the stove instead. Remember to stir the mixture regularly so that the bottom of the pot/halwa doesn’t burn.
2. Carrot halwa was a very popular dessert to have at weddings and grown-up birthday celebrations in India. On these occasions, it was served with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. The hot halwa and cold ice-cream were meant to compliment each other. You can make it as rich as you want to – just remember to go for a run the next day 😉
3. The same recipe can be used to make beetroot halwa though beetroot might take a little longer to cook . Use fresh beetroot and don’t forget to peel its tough skin before grating it. Be prepared to end up with pink fingers and nails for a couple of days after making this dessert.
4. While we are on the halwa topic, if you do see Lebanese halwa get your hands on some. You will notice that this halwa crumbles when you try to cut through it. I wrapped bits of this crumbly halwa into a puff-pastry sheet and it became a whole new dessert ! Worth a try if you like halwa!
Halwa/Halva = hull + vah
Gajar (Hindi for carrot) = “ga” as in Garfield + “jar” as in jerk