The last time I ate halva was when I was living in Saudi Arabia. I had also eaten it in Turkey and in several other Middle Eastern countries. Depending on the country you are in and if you use flour or not, it will have a softer and moist or more crumbly and dry consistency.
A while ago my husband suggested we consider Teheran as a next posting. When you lead this life, you never know what may happen and where you may end up. In theory, you have some choices but you can’t really be sure if any will be accepted. I’m usually very open to new adventures so I decided to buy every book I could find on the subject, including on Persian culinary traditions.
At that time there was an excellent BBC documentary that I highly recommend, called “A Taste of Iran”. It was created by an Iranian journalist who lives in the West but went back to Iran to explore the culinary history and culture of different regions. I was fascinated and it made me want to learn more about Iranian cuisine.
After researching, I found a great book on Persian cuisine called Food of Life by Najmieh Batmanglij. I have already cooked several recipes from it with great success. The recipes introduce a mixture of some familiar Middle Eastern flavours with new, intense and sometimes unexpected ones. The smells emanating from the dishes usually spread around the house which delights me.
Cardamom is often present and its smell always takes me back to other landscapes and flavours. Like the extremely pale Saudi coffee that surprises your tongue with a particular taste of roasted beans and cardamom or the market in Sanaa, Yemen, where I bought my last cardamom pods.
In “Food of life” the author explains how halva in pre-islamic Iran, was considered by the Zoroastrians to be a festive dish which helped the ancestors on their journey back to heaven after their annual new year visit to earth. It is still being made today in Iran for births and funerals.
As I had never tasted Carrot Halva before I decided to give it a try.
- 907 g ( 32 oz) carrots, peeled and grated
- 2 cups sugar or grape molasses
- 1 cup canola oil or unsalted butter
- 2 cups rice flour, sifted
- 1/2 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 1/2 cup rose-water
- 1/2 tbsp ground cardamom (or 1 tbsp if you love cardamom)
- 2 tbsp ground pistachios
- 2 tbsp ground walnuts
- 2 tbsp dried rose petals
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- In a casserole, stirring constantly, bring to a boil the grated carrots with 2 cups of water and the sugar. The sugar has to dissolve completely. Cover it and simmer in low heat for 30 minutes.
- Warm the oil over high heat in a Dutch oven and little by little, stirring constantly, add the rice flour. To get the right consistency, the secret is to really never stop stirring for about 8 minutes or until slightly golden.
- After reducing the heat to low and carefully to avoid splashing, mix the cooked carrots with the flour mixture. Add the saffron rose-water and the cardamom, (not everyone likes the intense taste of cardamom. As I always freshly ground my cardamom bought in Yemen and the flavour is really intense, I decided to reduce the amount used from originally 1 tbsp to 1/2 tsp) cook in low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes. To get both a smooth and thick consistency, it is very important to continue stirring fast and non stop with a wooden spoon.
- In a glass serving dish put a 20 cm (8 inches) to 25 cm (10 inches) ring and place the halva inside by pressing it with a spatula to pack it firmly. Sprinkle with the pistachios, walnuts and cinnamon. Let it cool down and then place it covered in the refrigerator to chill. Before serving and as I didn’t have dried rose petals, I used some fresh ones instead to decorate.
It is suggested that you can serve it either as a main dish with “lavash” bread which is a kind of very thin flat bread or as a dessert. I served it as a dessert and it was a big success. Halva can also be an acquired taste but if you never ate it and are willing to try new things then this dessert could be a good place to start.