Sunday, August 22, 2010

An easy-to-make Indian treat: Carrot Halva

Recently, for a fancy Indian dinner I prepared, I needed a dessert in addition to the mangoes we would be serving. I only know three Indian desserts that I can cook without extensive effort.

One is carrot halva, a sort of carrot and milk fudge scented with cardamom. Another is "shahi tukra," (royal toast), which is bread fried in clarified butter then soaked in a sweet syrup made with cooked-down milk and cardamom. The third is rice pudding, a sweet, silky, soup-like mixture of rice cooked with milk and cardamom. (Do you see a pattern?)

One other I've made in the past, but it's elaborate, calorie-intensive and requires dry whole milk powder. Goolab jamun, a sort of Dunkin Donut munchkin with concentrated milk as the principal ingredient, is deep-fried in oil then soaked in a sugar syrup containing cardamom and rosewater.

I first encountered halva as the dry, crumbly Jewish treat "halvah," made from tahini -- finely ground sesame seeds -- and honey. Later, in Asia, I had various types of Indian halva, or "haluwa," made from such items as semolina, or carrots, pumpkin or gourd, or even from cornstarch. Whatever the ingredients, the confection was always sweet.

The origins of the word "halva" indicates the sweet's history. It showed up in English in the mid-19th century from Yiddish, in other words from Central and Eastern European Jews. As it turns out, the word came into Yiddish from Romanian, where in turn it had come from the Turkish "helva." However, neither the word nor the sweet were originally Turkish. Ultimately, both came from the Arabs. The Arabic name transliterates into the Roman alphabet as "Al halwa," meaning sweet confection.

Some Indian carrot halva, or "gajar ka halwa," is made into small, firm cakes. Other versions are softer and fluffier. That's the kind I made.

Typically carrot halva is garnished with pistachios, almonds or cashews. In India, the confection may even have a small sheet of vanishingly thin silver foil on it.

The carrots shrink down during the cooking process. The recipe makes enough for 6-8 persons, but leftovers keep well in the fridge and make delicious nibbling.

Carrot Halva -- Gajar ka Halwa

1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
8 whole cardamoms
1/4 cup butter
1 cup canned evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 to 7 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons toasted (shelled) pistachios, cashews or slivered almonds for garnish

Place grated carrots, whole cardamoms and butter in large, heavy frying pan. Fry gently over low heat, stirring frequently, 2 minutes.

Add 1/2 cup evaporated milk. Mix well. Cover pan and simmer 10 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping bottom of pan.

Add another 1/4 cup evaporated milk plus salt. Fry gently, stirring often, uncovered, so liquid begins to dry down. Repeat, adding the last 1/4 cup milk.

When carrot is tender and becoming dry, add sugar, starting with 6 tablespoons.

Stirring frequently, fry until no more juices are present in carrots. Taste, and add final tablespoon of sugar (or more) if desired. (When cooled, the halva will have less intense flavors.)

The halva can be stored, refrigerated, in a covered container for up to a few days. To serve, bring to room temperature, mix with fork to fluff it and remove cardamoms.

Place in serving dish. Top with a light sprinkling of pistachios, cashews, or almonds.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like an interesting treat.

11:25 PM  

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