Every year from July through September, we celebrate all three birthdays and an anniversary. Our celebrations have always been a bit low key. When our girl was younger, her birthdays were marked with a party for her friends. As she grew older, birthdays became quieter, because she preferred them that way. We haven’t been able to keep to even our low key kind of celebrations this year for various reasons. However, I did my best to mark our special days by cooking something sweet. One such is this Moong Dal Halwa. I’m not a fan of halwa in general but I like Gajar/ Carrot Halwa and Lentil Halwa.
Moong Dal refers to split Moong lentils. Generally cooked up into savoury dishes, Moong Dal makes very good halwa. Halwa (or halva/ halvah) is a sweet dish that is somewhat like a dense pudding. It is made in a variety of ways across the Middle East, various countries of North Africa, Eastern Europe and across Central and South Asia.
The recipes to make Halwa can differ from region to region depending on geography, culture, and locally available ingrdients. Halwa can be made from grain flour, nuts, fruit, vegetables and lentils to mention a few. They can be crumbly in texture or semi sold or even solid and chewy. One thing is wherever you eat Halwa, it will be sweet and quite rich.
Halwa probably came to India with traders and invaders from the Middle East. It has been accepted, adapted and now is a very intrinsic part of Indian cuisine. Each region of the country has its own version of the dish. Moong Dal Halwa is well known in the Indian state of Rajasthan though you will find it elsewhere. It is made with skinned split moong lentils, sugar, milk, ghee, cardamom, saffron and garnished with nuts.
Moong Dal Halwa is traditionally made and served warm during cold winters. It is rich in protein and ghee and good for that time of the year. This halwa is also made for auspicious and festive occasions that are celebrated during winter including Diwali, Holi and weddings. So it can be made and eaten during anytime of the year except during hot summers when it is heavy to digest. It is best eaten in small portions at a time.
It is not a particularly difficult sweet to make but does involve a bit of prep. The skinned split moong dal/ lentils need soaking for at least 5 to 6 hours at least. Overnight soaking works as well (about 8 hours). It also takes a little time and calls for some upper arm workout. Like most other traditional recipes, the ingredients, amounts and method of making this Moong Dal Halwa will depend on the person making it. Some people add khoya (thickened milk solids) for a creamier and richer taste but this halwa tastes just as good without it.
The skinned split moon dal/ lentils require a longish soaking time, anywhere from about 5 to 8 hours. It is important to drain the water well, and grind the drained lentils without the addition of water. The long soak helps here. Any addition of water will affect the texture of the halwa. Please use a thick bottomed/ walled pan to cook this recipe to prevent the halwa from sticking and burning.
Serve this halwa warm. It does not any accompaniment other than the chopped nut garnishes. You can also try serving it with crisp puffed savoury masala puris. You can refrigerate leftovers. To serve, put the cold halwa in a pan with a little milk and cook it until the milk is absorbed and the halwa is moist again.
Moong Dal Halwa
- 1 1/2 cup skinned split moong dal
- 2 tbsp warm milk
- A few strands of saffron
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1 1/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 to 1 cup to ghee
- 5 green cardamom pods powdered
- 2 tbsp chopped almonds
- 2 tbsp chopped pistachios
- Wash and soak the skinned split moong dal/ lentils for 5 to 6 hours. You can soak them overnight too (for about 8 hours max). Drain the lentils well. Grind the drained lentils in a processor or mixer-grinder, without addition of water, to a thick coarse paste. It should be coarse with very small bits, just short of a smooth paste.
- Soak the saffron strands in the 2 tbsp warm milk in a small bowl. Keep aside.
- Heat 3/4 cup ghee in a heavy bottom/ walled pan over low to medium heat. Put the thick, coarse paste into the ghee and start stirring it. Keep stirring it frequently so the lentil paste cooks. Initially it will a bit pasty but with a little time it should start looking crumbly and become a light golden brown. This will take about 20 to 30 minutes.
- At this point, turn the heat down. Add the milk to the pan. Be careful as the mixture will splutter and spit. You can take the pan off the stove top temporarily to do this, if you prefer. Turn the heat up to medium and stir well so there are no lumps. Keep stirring frequently for about 10 minutes allowing the lentils to cook a little more. The mixture will thicken.
- Add the sugar to the pan and stir it in. The mixture will loosen a little but will thicken as you keep stirring and it cooks. When the mixture starts leaving the sides of the pan, as you keep stirring it, stir in a couple of tablespoons of the left over ghee. You can add all of it if you feel the halwa looks very dry and needs it. Also stir in the powdered cardamom and the saffron-milk mixture.
- Take the pan off the stove. Let it cool a bit. Spoon into serving bowls and garnish with the chopped almonds and pistachios. Serve warm.