October 16, 2012

Halva

October 16, 2012
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The Arabic term halva is used either for a flour or nut based dessert. My first contact with sesame halva was at the age on nine when my parents brought a gift box from Lebanon. It tasted unlike any other sweet before. Although it was light and crumbled when touched, the sugar and nut butter melted in the mouth. It had an earthly smell, almost like timber mixed with honey like sap. I ate it with discipline, a tiny portion at a time, and when it finally finished several months later, I washed and kept the container for years. It accelerated, with the Arabic writing on the lid, my imagination as a child. Just by looking at the red plastic casket, I travelled far away from cold and snowy Finland and saw camels, peacocks and parrots zigzagging among men in turbans and noisy traffic! It probably wasn’t an accurate view of Western Asia or Middle East but it kept me entertained.
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Semolina or suji halva was one of the first Indian treats I had a decade later. Made by frying wheat in butter or ghee, the texture and taste are different. At best, it is soft, succulent and rich. Many times nuts and raisins are added, as well as spices like saffron and cardamom.

My favourite halva is made with fresh strawberries and strawberry jam. Because the berry season is gone for this year, I made yesterday a basic version using caramelized sugar, milk and orange zest. Instead a wheat, I used spelt grits. I like fine semolina (spelt) instead of coarse because it makes halva pudding-like. Finer the better.
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Semolina used for halva is not Italian durum-wheat but rather what is known as cream of wheat in the States. In Finnish, it is called manna which I mistakenly thought to be a biblical reference to the flake-like frost on the ground provided to the Israelites by God during their travels in the desert! From heaven or not, I couldn’t stand it as a child. Manna porridge and its pink relative, lingonberry porridge, caused me nightmares! And yet, it took me one visit to India to fall in love with halva and upma, a salty semolina breakfast favourite cooked with vegetables! Most likely I was born into a wrong culinary tradition.

I served the halva with figs roasted in butter and sugar, caramel sauce and salted almond slivers (toasted with fresh rosemary).
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Thank you.

28 comments:

  1. I loved your opening story, such a great example of how food can be a gateway for the imagination! Your photos are lovely as always - I've never tried halva, but my mom loves it! Perhaps this will be the impetus to try it!

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    1. Halva is perfect for a cool weather. There is something comforting about it.

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  2. So lovely. I am in awe of your presentation here.

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    1. To be honest, I had a bad day when I took the pictures and thought I won't be able to use any of them. It was very dark and rainy, even in my studio, it seemed. On the positive side, I attached a new, clean filter into my camera and it seemed to perform better than with the previous one.

      It is always a challenge to get halva and other less photogenic foods to look good.

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  3. I have never tried halva but after reading your description and seeing your photos I will definitely get it a try.

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    1. It is worth trying. Because it's quite sweet, it goes well with salted almonds. It may be over the top, but I like it with vanilla custard, too!

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  4. I am not a big fan of halva but looking at these pictures and your version of halva makes me want to try it! Great photos as usual Lakshmi!

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    1. Next summer, when we have fresh strawberries, I will post a recipe you would love! It's the best halva you can dream of.

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  5. You never cease to amaze me, Lakshmi dear! XX

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    1. Dear Madhu, same to you. I hope you are well.

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  6. That is my all time favourite Indian sweet, they served it on several occasions both the sweet and savoury versions(not on the same day!)at the Ashram in Rishikesh on my yoga sabbatical. I was planning on posting a similar recipe on my blog, I also use wholegrain spelt semolina. I love semolina, the Turks also do something similar and the Greeks and Italians have the ultra rich semolina cake. Love the story!

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    1. Good, you are also speaking of spelt semolina. I was not sure if it is a correct name in English or if semolina was only applicable to wheat. The one I'm using is finer than most of the wheat varieties, and it is great.

      The salty "halva", upma, is a fantastic breakfast item! It has to be made in ghee though.

      Halva might be one of the most widely spread sweets of the old world. I think it lost it's magic more North it travelled and the Vikings turned it into a porridge.

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  7. I love Halva...in Bosnia we use to eat it a lot,at least my family did. I don't know if I can find spelt semolina..can I replace it with something else?

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    1. You can use wheat semolina. Sometimes I use oat semolina, too.

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    2. I can eat wheat nor oat..may try to find spelt one..

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  8. I have always loved Indian sweets since I lived in Fiji many years ago and this has all the same flavours as what I remember from back then - delicious.

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  9. Love the halva and imagery and stories...
    I have noticed your foliage crowns in past entries.
    How do you make them?
    Melisa

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    1. Do you mean the rosemary garland or wreath? It is made of fresh rosemary springs and tied together with the green ribbon. The previous one on the head in the summer picture is plaited like hair but with wild flowers. We used to make such garlands as kids.

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    2. Hi,
      Yes, thank you...I love the wreaths and garlands you make and photograph. I have always wanted to make one, and it seems simple, but I've not found a teaching with the fresh ingredients you use. Always with faux flowers and foliage and glue. My hope is to gather nature, tie together, and wear. So inspiring!

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  10. I loooove halva! here in Lithuania we have only two types of it - sunflower seed and peanut, but when I was living in Turkey, this country amazed me by the variaty of halva it has. Pistachio, sesame, chocolate, walnut... oh my, I was in paradise!

    And your halva looks realy incredible! I must give it a try! Urgently! :)

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  11. Hi Lakshmi,

    Found you through Pinterest and absolutely love love every post. I am new to blogsphere and did a Halva post today. What a coincident!

    I love semolina but never treid with orange zest, will have to try next time I make semolina halva. Never tried strawberry halva. How do you make it?

    If you like to see my halva post, here's the link -
    http://withaspin.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/a-treat-for-eid/

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  12. Some weekends we like to start our day with warm suji halva and poori. It's one of our fav! But next time I would like to try the twist you mentioned. Sounds very interesting.

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  13. I just can't stop looking at your pictures. Amazing and beautiful.

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  14. A divine dessert! Beautifully seasonal.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  15. orange fig and almond in halwa is blissful. There are so many kinds and you have just built another one, so full of bursting flavors. i cannot ever resist the orange flavor. I think the wholegrain imparts the color of an atta halwa would look like.

    Lakshmi I used to fancy ligonberry jams/sauce a lot! used to buy them from IKEA :)I guess you had too much of them..LOL I have never seen fresh ligonberries.

    what a beautiful way to take flight in a different world.. just from a box.

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    1. Lingonberries have been plenty this fall. They are perhaps my least favourite berries because they are sour. They combine well with something super sweet, although the sourness will always be there. Here people serve lingonberry jam with savoury food, usually heavy meat dishes, like chutney that is without hotness. When I was a kid, we always had it in the fridge. Lingonberries are the easiest and quickest berries to pick. We used to pick them by buckets.

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  16. I LOVE suji ka halva. And as usual, your photography and styling never cease to amaze me :)

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