Gajar Ka Halwa - An Indian Carrot Confection (GF)
It is difficult to translate “Halwa” into English. A halwa is a sweet/ confection that is made from different kinds of grains/ flours or vegetables and contains sugar/ jaggery, ghee, lots of dried fruit and nuts and sometimes milk. The consistency of halwa can vary from dry and crumbly, through sticky to fudgy and thick enough to be cut into bars.
So the word halwa would conjure up different pictures in different peoples’ minds. Considering the widespread presence of various types of halwa (also halva or halvah) in the countries of the Middle East, and even Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Albania to mention a few, I think it is reasonable to assume that this confection arrived in the Indian subcontinent along with the invaders/ traders from Persia.
In India, the most common type of halwa is probably that made of grainy wheat semolina known as "Sooji Halwa" in Hindi, "Kesari" in Tamil and "Sheera" in Goa. Halwas are also made from broken wheat, wheat flour, all purpose flour, lentils/ gram, nuts and vegetables.
I’m not very fond of most halwas though I can always find space in my tummy for a bit of badam halwa (almond), kaju katli (cashewnut) and my all time favourite, which is gaajar (carrot) halwa. Halwas are very rich so a small portion is usually more than enough.
I learnt to make carrot halwa from my cousin, and making it had become an annual affair for me till 5 years ago. Unfortunately for me, these carrots were not available when we moved to Cochin and my annual halwa making ritual cam to an end!
The usual orange variety of carrots can be made into halwa, but halwa made from the long red variety of carrots is just something else. These carrots grow in the cooler climates of India (mostly the north) and are available only during the months of December, January and Februuary. They are juicier and very sweet so halwa made from them is more carrot and less sugar.
Now we are back in Goa and it’s once again the season for those carrots, and I’m back at making halwa. You can grate the carrots in the food processor or hand-held/ box grater. Naturally, its easier with the former though I grated the carrots by hand for last month's match of halwa (it's been ages since I grated such a large quantity by hand) because my food processor went into a temporary sulk!
One good thing about this halwa, is that you can make a large quantity of it and freeze it. I know it keeps well for about 2 months, because that's how long it took to finish what I had made!
- Note : Do not grate the carrots very fine or your halwa will turn mushy, though it would still taste good
- In a small pan, heat 1 tbsp ghee and fry the raisins, over low to medium heat, till they puff up and just start browning. Remove from the ghee and keep aside. In the same pan, heat another tbsp of ghee and similarly fry the cashewnuts till they are lightly golden. Remove them from the ghee and keep aside. If there is any ghee left, use it while adding the rest of the ghee while making the halwa.
- Pour the milk into a heavy bottomed and deep pan. Add the carrots and cook over medium to high heat while stirring frequently, till the carrots are done and the milk has reduced to less than half the original quantity.
- You can do this in the microwave too, which is what I do. I prefer doing this part of the cooking in the MW, because it saves time and ensures that the carrots don't become mushy. If using the MW, then divide the grated carrots into half. Cook one half with 1 cup of milk (loosely cover the deep glass bowl) for 8 minutes at 100%. Repeat this with the other half too. Then Put the cooked carrot-milk mixture and the remaining milk in the heavy bottomed pan and bring it to a boil and reduce the milk to about half the original quantity.
- Now add the sugar and keep stirring till its dissolved and the mixture is thicker and most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the ghee, in two separate lots, stirring well after each addition. Keep stirring until the halwa turns a slightly deeper red in colour and no liquid is visible at the bottom of the pan. The halwa should be soft and moist but not wet.
- Take the pan off the heat. Now add the powdered cardamom, raisind and cashenuts and mix everything well. Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator or freezer.
- This recipe should serve about 10, depending on the serving size.
- Gajar/ Carrot halwa tastes best when served slightly warm. So just before serving, slightly warm the halwa. Many people in India prefer to serve/ eat this halwa with vanilla ice-cream but I prefer the halwa just as it is, warm and fragrant with cardamom.