You know how Tolstoy famously said, “there are as many kinds of loves as there are hearts”? Well, I’m going to not-so-famously say “there are as many kinds of halwas as there are countries”.
Apparently, there are few countries in the world in which halwa (or halva, halwah, halveh, helva, halua, and the list goes on) is NOT a traditional dessert. It’s a kind of centuries-old global sweet. The word halwa comes from the Arabic root “helw”, which means “sweet”, and many middle-eastern cultures like to claim it’s their original concoction (hey, I would want to take credit for coming up with like that too). Nonetheless, if a dessert has been carrying on for centuries, it must be pretty good, right? It’s so simple, it’s genius, not to mention easy to prepare.
I must confess, it took me a couple (okay, several) tries to perfect this recipe. I’ll go on to embarrass myself by pretty much giving away how I messed up each time; so go ahead, make it and impress everyone with your halwa skills at my expense.
I present to you the 5 commandments of Halwa-making:
- Thou shalt embrace stirring. Seriously, you’re going to be stirring constantly.
- Thou shalt thoroughly roast the semolina, without burning it.
- Thou shalt boil the sugar and water mixture separately instead of being lazy and throwing it in with the browned semolina.
- Thou shalt not attempt to be overly healthy and skimp on the butter.
- Thou shalt use fine quality semolina.
If you follow the 5 commandments, you will be treated to a dessert that will feel like heaven on earth (sorry, I had to).
Traditional Sooji ka Halwa (Semolina Halwa)
Halwa is a famous dessert that is prepared all over the world with various ingredients and in countless forms. This 20-minute recipe is prepared with semolina in the Pakistani and North Indian style.
- 1/2 cup of butter
- 1 cup fine semolina sooji
- 3 cups water*
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar or cane sugar or to taste
- 4-5 cardamom pods slightly cracked open
- 1/2 tsp to 2 tsp rose water depending on how strong your rose water is
- pinch of saffron optional
- slivered almonds for garnish**
Melt the butter in a non-stick saucepan on medium-low heat and add the semolina.
Stir the semolina continuously until it roasts evenly and turns golden in color, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from heat. You can also continue on to the next step while roasting the semolina.
In a separate small saucepan, bring to a boil the water, light brown sugar and cardamom pods. Keep boiling until the sugar is dissolved, and then remove from heat and add the rose water and saffron.
Place the semolina mixture back over low-medium heat. Stir this sugar syrup carefully into the browned semolina. Continue to stir for a couple of minutes, until the mixture thickens, loses most of its moisture and the butter starts to separate from the semolina.
Garnish with slivered almonds (or other garnishings) and serve warm.
* The water will determine the texture. If you want it to be more crisp and grainy, use 2 cups of water. 3 cups will yield a softer and thicker halwa. ** You can also add various nuts, raisins, or any other garnishing. Some people add this within the halwa while cooking it (I prefer to keep the halwa center-stage though).