-Are you kidding me? It is definitely mine, says Turkey.
-Hellooooo, it is originated from the Arabic word “”hulw,” meaning “sweet.” Yeap, mine!
-Guys, check out your history books and the eating habits of Byzantine. Mineeeee, says Greece.
What a mess!! Well, I guess one of the most common and tastier dessert in the world could have provoked that kind of dispute. It’s all about Halva or Halvah or Halwa or Helva and the name list goes on and on…
The dessert that almost every country, from the Balkans to India and the countries in between, claim as their own. That popular confection is made by corn flour, rice flour, semolina and other grains and they are usually toasted in butter or oil and soaked in syrup. There is no limit of spices and other ingredients like fruits even vegetables and we may say that almost every culture has its own unique halva recipe not to mention several variations of the core one, meaning countless tasteful versions for everybody!!! Yay!!
Pointless to dispute over originality because the most important is to be open-minded, eager to expand and challenge our culinary boundaries. Just imagine for a second a fancy round table with several versions of that dessert from all over the world on a balcony with superb sunset view. People tasting, exchanging tips, recipes ….and smiles. You can call it gastronomic fantasy and I prefer it over the hot dispute at the beginning of the post.In Greece, Halva is the name for several varieties you may find all over the country and they are extremely popular and particularly, but not exclusively, consumed during lent, the vegan period where consumption of eggs and dairy is strictly forbidden.
Nowdays, 3 varieties are the most common ones: Semolina Halva, Halva Farsalon and Macedonian Halva.
The first one is a ridiculously easy home kitchen and absolutely blown away dessert which I am going to show you in that post.
Macedonian Halva (Μακεδονικος=Makedonikos) is made with tahini and quite often is flavored with chocolate and almonds. It is sold in block or brick form and, truth be told, I am capable of eating a whole brick myself. Yeap!! It is that good. So, I pretend there is no that kind of halva anywhere in the market or I buy a tiny amount just for the taste once in a while.
Halva Farsalon is an opaque and unctuous version made with corn flour and granulated sugar and t stands out due to its crisp tasty topping of burnt sugar. It used to be served in summer festivals but it is not easy to find it anymore. Even though I am not very fond of it, I suggest you try it if you have the chance.
In taverns and restaurants, you will find different versions of halva on the menu and if you are lucky it will be served as a free dessert along with the bill. You know, while you pay for your culinary sins. The process is much sweeter that way….My semolina halva recipe is the most common one and the main ingredient is two varieties of semolina: coarse and fine semolina. I like to mix both of them just to get the consistency and the texture I want because coarse semolina gives the thickness but fine semolina makes it creamy and sticky. Can’t beat that! If you don’t find fine semolina, just pour coarse semolina into a blender or food processor and blend it until it is fine. You are good to go!I usually avoid sautéing but for that recipe sautéing gives such a rich and nutty flavor to the mixture that I cannot overlook. The sautéing of semolina in light or extra-light olive oil will prepare the grain to absorb the aromatic syrup and it won’t impart an oily flavor to the dessert. You may use vegetable oil as well. At that stage you don’t leave the kitchen because you have to check your pot and stir frequently. Do not rush this process since semolina burns easily.You may do whatever you want with syrup… almost…. It’s the funny part of the recipe because you add the spices you like. The traditional version of the recipe calls for cinnamon and clove but do your own thing and play around with other spices and ingredients you like. Add orange or lemon juice or any other kind.
I kept the cinnamon, paired it with cardamom and orange juice. Additionally, I avoid sugar in almost all my desserts and I use honey instead in order to get the sweetness along with vitamins and minerals. That’s why honey is the last ingredient I add to the recipe when the heating procedure is over and this is the best way to preserve its nutritional value.
Your semolina halva can be plain or you may add nuts, almonds, cashews, pine nuts, raisins, sunflower seeds, dried fruits etc. I chose raisins and pine nuts as they perfectly compliment the aromatic syrup. Well, it helps that my boys love them as well, so this combination is a keeper in our home.
Give your halva dessert the shape you like. Whether it looks like a cake, a muffin or a ball, the consistency of that dessert will give you the opportunity to use your imagination and your baking molds for a tasteful and out of the ordinary dessert.
- ½ cup (100ml) coarse semolina
- ½ cup (100ml) fine semolina
- 8 tablespoons (50ml) light olive oil
- 1 cup honey
- 2 cups (400ml) orange juice
- 1 cinnamon stick crushed
- 15 cardamom seeds crushed
- 3 tablespoons raisins (soaked in water for half an hour and chopped)
- 2 tablespoons chopped pine nuts
- In a non-stick pot, over medium high heat, pour the olive oil and heat until slightly simmering. Add all the semolina and stir frequently to prevent sticking and burning. It is better not to leave the saucepan unattended. It takes at least 20 minutes for the grains to toast and turn a deep golden color. Add the chopped raisins and pine nuts 5 minutes before removing the pot from the heat.
- As long as you cook the semolina, prepare the syrup in a medium saucepan. Place the crashed cinnamon stick and cardamom seeds in a tea infuser and plunge it into orange juice. Boil for 5 minutes and set aside. Remove the tea infuser before pouring the syrup into the semolina mixture. If you don’t use tea infuser you may just add spices and drain them before pouring syrup into the semolina’s pot.
- You have already removed the semolina from the heat. Add gradually the hot syrup. Start with one tablespoon, wait and then add another one until it is safe to pour the whole syrup. Be extra careful because the semolina mixture is going to sizzle and bubble. The syrup is going to be absorbed really fast. It is ready when the mixture starts to pull away from the bottom of the pan. Add the honey and stir well.
- Remove from the heat and cover the pot for 15 minutes. Put the mixture into a cake or pudding mold, ramekins or just use your hands to shape it.