Greek semolina halva is one of the most delicious egg and dairy-free desserts of the Mediterranean cuisine. It is basically a semolina pudding usually enhanced with nuts and dried fruits, soaked in hot syrup and delightfully spiced with cinnamon.
-No doubt, it’s mine, says India.
-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 tastier desserts 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.
WHAT IS THE SEMOLINA HALVA?
Not interested in the origins of this amazing dessert? No problem! Jump to Recipe
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.
THE GREEK SEMOLINA HALVA
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.
Nowadays, 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 cornflour and granulated sugar and it 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. Am I right?
GREEK SEMOLINA HALVA: THE RECIPE
This is an easy fuss-free and quick recipe: the semolina is toasted in oil, and then soaked in hot syrup with the aromas and blends of spices. It is usually called the 1:2:3:4 recipe referring to the ratio of the used ingredients.
1 part olive oil, 2 parts semolina 3 parts sugar 4 parts water.
My semolina halva recipe follows this ratio but I reduce the sugar and sometimes substitute with honey. Find out exactly how and follow my tips for the best Greek semolina halva of your life!
OLIVE OIL: 1 part
Yes, it is olive oil, not vegetable or seed oil. The Mediterranean way of eating is based on unprocessed food consumption. Therefore, olive oil is the basic fat. BUT for this recipe, it has to be the MILDEST olive oil you can find. If your olive oil isn’t mild, your semolina halva will be greasy with a strong oily taste. Don’t put the blame on the poor blogger. You’ve been warned.
SEMOLINA: 2 parts
A mix of coarse and fine semolina will give you the perfect consistency and texture because coarse semolina provides thickness but fine semolina makes everything creamy and sticky. If you don’t find fine semolina, just pour coarse semolina into a blender or food processor and blend it until it is thin. You are good to go!
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. In addition, it brings an irresistible smell that is enhanced with the hot syrup and the aroma of the spices. A real feast for the senses! At that stage, you don’t leave the kitchen because you have to check your pot and stir frequently. The semolina should get a deep golden color. When making Greek semolina halva it is extremely important not to burn the grains. So, you need low heat, patience, and love.
When you pour in the syrup, the semolina mixture shouldn’t be very hot because the syrup will be instantly evaporated instead of absorbed by the grains. That would be so pity. Therefore, it is better to remove the pot from the heat and give a couple of minutes to settle before pouring in the syrup. Even then please be extremely careful not to burn your hands.
Nuts, dried fruits and especially raisins brighten things up with bursts of a delicious combination of nutty and sweet flavors.
SUGAR: 3 parts
Look, I’m not here to lie to you, I will never! But the traditional recipe calls for 3 cups of sugar. Boy, it's a lot! Not only it is a sugar bomb but it is way too sweet for my taste. So, if you are like me, you got two options. Either reduce the amount of sugar or (and) substitute with honey. I always reduce the sugar amount and sometimes I substitute with honey when I have a lot of it available. Because again, it needs a lot of good quality honey. It is your game so play it the way you like.
Keep in mind that raisins and dried fruits, when used, provide extra sweetness to the mixture and therefore it would be clever to add more of them while reducing the sugar.
WATER: 4 parts
No comments here. I had to write it down to complete the basic ingredient list. (lol)
ADD EXTRA FLAVOR AND SWEETNESS
Your semolina halva can be plain or you can add nuts, almonds, cashews, pine nuts, raisins, sunflower seeds, dried fruits, etc. I love raisins because I take advantage of their sweetness and roasted almonds as they perfectly complement the aromatic syrup. Well, it helps that my boys love those ingredients as well, so this combo is a keeper in our home.
Nevertheless, as you already know, I like to play a little, test new combinations and use up whatever I have in my pantry. Therefore, for this recipe, I added goji berry instead of raisins. Goji berry is a dried fruit that belongs to the superfood category as it is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. Not only healthy but also delicious, it is going to help me reduce the sugar even more and it will provide an extra sweet and slightly sour taste.
SHAPE YOUR SEMOLINA HALVA
Give your halva dessert the shape you like. The semolina halva can be placed in any kind of mold and it will perfectly retain its shape. 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. So, if you have a cute mold for kids, you may use it in kids party and they are going to love it!
MY SEMOLINA HALVA IS READY! NOW, WHAT?
Serve it warm or cold, sprinkle with cinnamon and some more chopped nuts. Don’t forget to pair it with a cup of Greek coffee or an herbal tea. You don’t know how to make Greek coffee? Ok, that’s another post, guys!
You can serve your Greek semolina halva on every social occasion like all kinds of dinners, pot luck, and even kids' party.
Store in the fridge or at room temperature for about 1 week.
Have you enjoyed my recipe? I am so glad and honored. Please rate it below and leave your comment or/and share it. I would be thrilled to see your Greek Semolina Halva either on Instagram and Facebook. Don’t forget my Pinterest account with thousands of Mediterranean friendly recipes.
More traditional Greek desserts to pair with your Greek coffee
Note: This post originally appeared on 30 days of Greek food in 2017. It has recently been updated with new photos and content so that the readers will benefit and enjoy it even more!
Greek Semolina Halva
FOR THE SYRUP
- 2-3 cups granulated sugar or 1-1½ cups honey
- 4 cups water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 lemon peel
- 1 orange peel
- 3 whole cloves (optional)
FOR THE SEMOLINA
- 1 cup olive oil, mild taste
- 1 cup coarse semolina
- 1 cup fine semolina
- ½ cup goji berry or raisins
- ½ cup almond slivers, toasted
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- Preheat the oven to 356°F (180°C). Line a small and shallow baking sheet with parchment. Toast the almond slivers for about 5-8 minutes.
FOR THE SYRUP
- In a medium pot with 4 cups water over high heat, add sugar (or honey), the cinnamon stick, the peels of lemon, orange and the cloves (optional). Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Don't stir at all. Set aside and keep it hot.
FOR THE SEMOLINA
- In a non-stick, heavy-bottomed pot heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until slightly simmering.
- Add the semolina and stir frequently to prevent from sticking and burning preferably with a wooden spoon. Don't leave the pot unattended. When the semolina starts to bubble, turn the heat down to low while stirring. It takes more or less 15 minutes for the grains to take a deep golden color.
- Add the ground cinnamon, the toasted almonds and the goji berries (or raisins) and stir for a few more minutes. Remove the pot from the heat.
- Remove the cinnamon stick, the lemon, orange peels and the cloves (optional) from the syrup.
- Pour gradually and extremely carefully the syrup into the semolina mixture. Stir with the wooden spoon, place the pot back on the stove and keep on stirring on medium heat for a few minutes. The semolina is ready when it thickens and pulls away from the sides of the pan.
- Remove from heat and cover the pot for 15 minutes to settle. Put the mixture into a cake or pudding mold, ramekin, etc and wait for about 1 hour.
- Top with cinnamon, almonds and toasted pine nuts.