Winter without Gajjar ka halwa? Not possible! Born and bred in a Punjabi family, I’ve inherited certain food rituals and followed them almost religiously my entire life. As soon as the cold weather hits, it’s not soups and stews we Punjabis hanker after, it’s Sarson ka Saag (Mustard green), Makai ki roti (cornmeal flatbread) and halwas made with various grain and vegetable that every family prepares following their own recipes that are usually close guarded secrets.
Halwas are yet another gift of the Mughal cuisine to the Indian subcontinent. The Arabic word means ‘something sweet’. It’s a dense and usually very sweet dessert, primarily made with either a flour base cooked with sugar and clarified butter or with tahini (sesame seed paste). As the dessert travelled far and wide, halwas got created with various innovative ingredients – lentils, semolina, pumpkins, beet roots, sweet potatoes and carrots are some of the popular variations.
In Lahore it’s prepared loaded with sugar and ghee, topped further with creamy reduced milk, hard boiled eggs and assorted nuts to reflect the legendary Punjabi generosity and love for rich and scrumptious food. While there is no harm in indulging in a such calorie dense pudding once a while, say on a wedding or festival, my conscience doesn’t allow me to revel in the luxury often.
In my version of Gajjar ka halwa, I choose the red juicy carrots that are naturally very sweet, and then cook them in whole milk using the fat in the milk as much as possible so that I don’t have to add a lot of sugar or extra oil to the halwa. This recipe makes a halwa that’s just sweet enough, not dripping with oil but delicious and warming to accompany your cup of afternoon tea or satisfy the your sweet craving without guilt.
Tips – you can also use honey, sugarcane juice or dates puree to sweeten the halva instead of sugar.
1+1/2 kg red carrots
1 litre whole milk
1 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds
4 tablespoons jaggery or organic brown sugar
4 tablespoons olive oil or ghee( clarified butter)
Assorted nut for garnish
This Is What You Do:
Wash, peel and grate carrots ( using a grater or a food processor) .
Heat milk in a deep pan. Bring to boil then reduce heat to a simmer.
Add crushed cardamoms and carrots. Let the carrots cook in milk till tender and the milk is completely reduced. Stir frequently when the milk begins to reduce so that the mixture doesn’t catch at the bottom of the pan.
Add sugar and let it melt into the mixture. Keep stirring without adding oil for as long as is possible so that you can draw out maximum fat from the milk and don’t have to add too much oil/ghee to the halwa. Just be careful not to let it burn at the bottom.
When the mixture is completely dry and thick, add oil and cook another few minutes (stirring) till the halwa is slightly darker in colour and glossy from cooking with sugar and oil. Ready halwa doesn’t stick to the pan anymore.
Garnish with your favourite nuts and dried fruits.
Serve warm with tea or as dessert.