Sunday, 16 October 2011

babcia's suji ka halva (semolina halva)

my grandmother is polish which is why we call her babcia. strangely we call my grandfather daddy which is what mama calls him. that of course makes sense given that he is her father. i do recollect babcia telling me a couple of times that dziadek is how they say grandfather in polish but daddy stuck and that is what both of us siblings call him. but i digress. when mama was little her mum used to make her suji ka halva, a halva that she then made for murad and i when were little. it is one of those things that i have not grown out of and when i think comfort i think of this suji ka halva

babcia's suji ka halva is far removed from the pakistani version typically eaten as a sunday brunch along with puri and channa's. pakistani suji ka halva is made by toasting the semolina in clarified butter till it changes colour. once toasted a sugar syrup is introduced. the semolina is then simmered in the syrup till it thickens to the consistency of a pudding. often, cardamom is added giving the halva a delicate aroma. sometimes food colouring is added to give the otherwise bland colour a flush of pink. sultanas plumped by being simmered together in the syrup add a bit of fruitiness. given the sweetness of this halva it is appropriate that it is eaten with puri (deep fried flat breads which have a rather chewy texture as they are made with white flour) and channa which adds an interesting saltiness. i often like to tweak this combination by eating it with roghni naan which is a thicker leavened bed baked in a tandoor and brushed with butter. 

i had to call babcia to ask her about her suji ka halva recipe as i have not come across anything like it. in england (where babcia grew up) semolina pudding evokes despair. i have always heard of it as a school dinner staple; a lumpy and unloved affair of a thick semolina custard made by boiling it in milk and thickening it with egg yolks and eaten with jam. we both agreed that this recipe was entirely hers. she says that she was always looking at ways in which to give her daughters nourishing things to eat and here the eggs, milk and butter represented just that. i would not call this halva nourishing in the classic sense of food that is healthy but i love it for its comfort and the memory of many happy days in my childhood with mama in the kitchen.

before i write down the recipe for this i have a couple of notes. i have until now had little success in making this halva. the first and most important note therefore is about patience. this is not a halva that rushes itself. you will need a gentle heat and a keen eye and sense of smell. these are essential to coax the semolina to change colour and bring out its nutty taste through toasting it in butter. the same is required when you add the sugar so that it caramelises and adds crunch. lastly, you will need to be quick when you mix in the egg and milk mixture in the final stage. if you are slow you'll land up with shreds of scrambled eggs which taste awful. 

baba calls this suji ka halva 'kachi suji' (which literally means uncooked semolina). he loves the pakistani suji ka halva where the simmering of the grains of semolina results in an almost smooth halva. the lack of prolonged cooking in babcia's recipe means that the semolina retains its grit which is why baba thinks it is kachi suji.

60 grams unsalted butter
3/4 cup semolina
a scant 1/2 cup of golden granulated sugar
one egg beaten with 1 and a half tablespoons of milk
 a small non-stick pan

start by melting the butter on a low heat. once it has melted add the semolina. at this point the texture is such that the butter helps loosely bind the semolina so it looks like a fine crumble. leave the semolina to toast in the butter stirring it at regular intervals. this stage took me roughly 15 - 20 minutes. 

once the semolina has turned a shade darker and smells toasted and nutty add the sugar. once again continue to brown the mixture. this process is similar to making a caramel and adds a brittle crunch to the halva. this stage took roughly 10 to 12 minutes. at the large stages of caramelisation the sugar colours quickly so be careful with the heat and stir your mixture constantly. if you look closely enough you should be able to see very tiny pieces of caramel brittle. the mixture will also smell like caramel. 

at this point lower the heat as much as possible. working quickly add the beaten egg and milk mixture whilst mixing the mixture simultaneously. you may get a few streaks of cooked egg but these can be smoothed out relatively easily with a brisk stir.

once it is done, spoon into a bowl and tuck in.

o and i ate ours slowly. this halva is buttery, caramel and texture in a bowl. as we were eating i was thinking out loud to o that this could be turned into a more solid dessert. next time i intend to add some crushed cardamom pods to it for fragrance and freshness. in its final stage i intend to let it cook a little longer so that it thickens a little further. then i intend to spread it in a baking tray about an inch thick and let it set like a fudge before finally cutting it into diamond shapes.i will keep you posted on how it goes.

the semolina mixture at stage one of the recipe
the semolina mixture at step two of the recipe
the semolina mixture at step three of the recipe
the suji ka halva right before we ate it

1 comment:

  1. Not too different from the Pakistani halwa - different people cook it differently.
    It looks wonderful - did you add cardamom the next time ?