We are off to India for today’s dessert, courtesy of a request from Jackie at Pham Fatale. Responding to my call for dessert requests at the end of August (which is still open by the way, if you’re interested), she listed millefeuille and Gajar Halwa, an Indian carrot pudding, as her two favorites. As my familiarity with Indian desserts is sorely limited – Gulab Jamun just about defines my notion of ‘Indian desserts’ to date – Jackie’s request immediately piqued my curiosity and I set about researching the dish.
I was surprised (and relieved) to find a host of recipes and information about the dessert. Halva is the broad term to refer to various confections across the Middle East, the Balkans, South and Central Asia and the Jewish world, which are primarily either nut or flour-based, but can also be made from sunflower seeds, lentils, yams and pumpkins. In the carrot version, a pound of vegetables are grated, then slowly, slowly cooked in milk with cardamom until dry, after which sugar and butter are added. Garnished with a sprinkling of nuts, the dessert is served warm and usually enjoyed with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, although I’m sure that personal preferences eventually dictate how the dish is consumed. I combined this recipe with elements from Jackie’s recipe, which was particularly enticing with the addition of saffron.
Apart from the extended simmering time, Gajar Halwa is really easy to prepare. Get a few nifty hands to help you grate the carrots, and let time do its work to reduce the strands of carrots into a soft mush. Saffron added a layer of complexity to an otherwise simple dish, and I liked how each spoonful had hints of intense sweetness suggestive of a few drops of condensed milk, when it was really just the result of a long and slow cooking process that allowed the carrots’ natural sugars to mix and mingle with the milk.
So if you’re trying to nourish or persuade a non-carrot lover about the health benefits of this humble root vegetable, or looking to bring a smile to someone who’s just had a dental operation, this might be the dish you want to turn to. Here’s my version below, but I suggest checking out other recipes as well, as you pick and choose the different elements and ingredients to include or exclude to create a dessert that’s truly yours.
I reduced the amount of sugar originally called for as the carrots are already quite sweet, but feel free to adjust the amount of sugar depending on your preference. Low heat and constant stirring of the carrot-milk mixture are key to the success of this dish to prevent the carrots from burning. Check out the ‘Tips’ section in Jackie’s post for ideas on creating a vegan version.
11 ounces/ 315 grams raw carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
2¾ cups whole milk
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons/ 20 grams unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon saffron threads
A handful of chopped nuts of your choice: almonds, pistachios or cashews are some common accompaniments
Heat the milk and the water in a heavy-bottomed pot (the water helps to prevent the milk from sticking to the bottom), stirring occasionally. When bubbles start to form on the surface, add the carrots and the cardamom and mix. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to its lowest setting, stirring every few minutes. Leave the pot uncovered during cooking to help the milk evaporate.
Stir, stir, stir, until almost all the milk is evaporated, which should take between 45 minutes to an hour. When that’s done, stir in the sugar, butter and saffron and turn the heat up. Let the mixture boil, stirring as you do so, until all the liquid evaporates and you get a soft, orangey mush.
Scoop into individual bowls, garnish with nuts and serve with vanilla ice-cream.