Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Halva: How it began...

The smell of Halva; nutty and roasted fumes arising from the stove one spring noon brought back memories of celebrations at home. Mum–the early riser-busy in the kitchen; us kids uncontrollably excited, donning our party clothes and spooning hot halva into our starchy morning mouths- the sweet notes heightening our festive mood for the day.

It took this halva to shake off the food amnesia of my youth. Nowadays it is back on my list of comfort foods. Quick and easy to prepare in any amount, Halva can be eaten as a warm breakfast on cold winter mornings as well as a classic dessert for a dinner party.  The secret is in how you serve it; scooped into a bowl for the former and shaped into presentable squares on dessert plates for the latter with almond flake toppings to decorate.
The traditional South Asian recipe calls for Ghee (clarified butter). You can buy this at an Indian store or make your own. Vegetable oils such as canola or sunflower are good too and most probably healthier. The Greeks use olive oil to make their Halva. Whatever you choose will depend on your personal taste, canola and sunflower oils will not overpower the overall taste whereas ghee will give your Halva a richer taste and olive oil a more Mediterranean flavour. Why not try them all to find what suits your taste buds?


The Recipe
Serves around four people
50ml of vegetable oil or 50g Ghee
50g fine semolina
50g ground almonds
50g sugar
200ml milk (or cream for a richer texture; avoid if calorie counting)
Spice (as you like): pinch of nutmeg, cinammon or green cardamom powder
1.  Pour the oil into a non stick saucepan over low heat.

2.  Add the semolina and stir continuously for 5-10 minutes or until golden  brown. 

      Ultimately if you prefer a more roasted taste (like my Abba) continue until the semolina turns into a much darker hue. You should be able to smell the semolina cooking at this stage; this is my favourite bit.

3.   Add the almonds, sugar and nutmeg (if using) to the semolina. Mix together.

4.  Next add the milk (or cream). Stir continuously until texture becomes thick and gloopy. Take off the hob and scoop into bowls for immediate serving or into a baking tray and smooth down with a baking spatula. Leave to set at room temperature if using the latter option.

5.  Sprinkle with cardamom powder and almond flakes before serving.

Note: This is an easy pudding to make. Slip ups may occur in the early stage (burnt semolina) so keep a watchful eye on the pan. Otherwise once you have tried this halva recipe it is always possible to tweak to individual preferences. For example, you can add a handful of whole almonds, cashew nuts and raisins thrown in with step 3 above using 100g of semolina instead.  Some people also add food colouring for a fun party look (if you must, try a natural colouring such as Saffron -heat the strands with the milk before adding to the general mixture); I think the natural roasted colour is more sophisticated though.

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