A warm bowl of Gajar ka Halwa brings in more than the tiding memories of taste and flavors of this sweet, cardamom flavored confection. It is a wave emotions of a mother daughter relation, and close binding times which might have felt to be just a part of the chore in a day then, but feels very different now.
All I feel like doing right now is putting those perfect moments in writing; simple things, but not there anymore – times of laughter, as I picked through the shredded carrots, stuffing some juicy fistfuls in my mouth and talked with ma of this and that. We took turns shredding and grating the carrots, ma and me.
I do not remember what we talked of. It must have been something trivial; school, and friends. The chores that we did together matter much more now than it did some twenty some years back. It is the glimpses of these little things in life that makes food all the more special; not just the tradition, the spices, the nutty bites that blends with the tenderly cooked carrots, but ma’s smile, the way she stirred the halwa or peeled the nuts, the love and the unseen trickling effect of the stories of the generations of the past and may be more to come.
Being in a mom’s role now, I realize through my intertwined memories how special the little moments are. A few conversations, a little joke, watching a sunset together, or wetting our feet as the waves dances back and forth in glee, as the toes squirm with the sand between them are all going to be memories someday – life is transient, a drop in this eternal vastness.
Gajar ka Halwa could be a year round dessert loved by all, but the carrots are fresh as the temperature cools down; starting from the month of October, until the end of winter.
The beginning of the autumn also means stepping in to a thread of religious festivals in India and new beginnings. We are in the midst of celebrating Navratri and Durga Pooja, during this time and looking forward to Diwali. I extend my warmest wishes to all my readers and my friends.
The religious festivals in India, and mostly the time of Diwali and the peak winter in December and January are the times when this Halwa is at its best – warm in a bowl, warming the fingers that wraps around it on a wintry night and adding a glow to the hearts putting a smile and cheer on every face.
Gajar ka Halwa (Carrot Halwa)
Ingredients: (serves 4-6)
- 1 lb carrots, washed and chopped in small pieces or coarsely grated or shredded
- 3 tablespoon ghee + 1 tablespoon ghee
- 3/4 cup sugar (or to taste)
- 10 small green cardamom, shell removed and the seeds finely powdered
- 2 cups milk (or 1 cup milk + 1/2 cup condensed milk)
- 1/4 Khoya/Solidified Milk* (Optional)
- a good pinch of saffron (optional)
- 1/2 cup nuts, (I have used almonds, but a mix of almond and cashews may be used too) + more for garnish
- 2 tablespoons golden raisins or chopped dates (optional)
Personally I do not like to shred the carrot as thin shredding leads to mushing up the carrots after they get cooked and the final dish loses all texture. I coarsely chop the carrots in a food processor; that way the carrots are softened enough during the long cooking process but still retain the bite and the feel. But it is a matter of taste.
Use less sugar if you are using condensed milk.
* Some recipes use Khoya, (solidified milk) to have a more creamy feel. I never use Khoya mostly because all of us prefer the lighter taste which highlights the carrots and is not overwhelmed by the feel and taste of dairy. If you are using Khoya (available in Indian grocery stores), use about 1/4 cup for the above proportions and add it to the pan while the carrots are cooking.
In a nutshell, the Carrot Halwa can be made with only milk, a combination of milk and condensed milk or a combination of milk, condensed milk and Khoya.
Now to the process:
Heat a heavy bottomed pan. Add 1 tablespoon ghee and add the nuts; toast them lightly and remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the carrots and cardamom powder to the same pan. Cook while stirring and tossing for about 3-5 minutes. Add sugar and cook for about five more minutes. Add milk (or milk + condensed milk), (Khoya if you are using), and saffron and continue to cook at low to medium heat; keep stirring and tossing the carrots to prevent the milk and the carrots from burning and sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Cook until almost all the milk is evaporated and the carrot is softened to almost a mush, which should take between 45 minutes to an hour. Add raisins or dates, lightly toasted nuts and mix. Add the rest of the ghee. Cook for another fifteen minutes, while stirring constantly until the mix is dry and there is no liquid left. The carrots will have turned a shade darker and will entire mix will leave the sides of the pan.
Remove from heat and transfer to a serving bowl. This may be reheated in the microwave or on the stove top on a pan.
(Carrot Halwa is usually served slightly warm, scooped out. But if you want to make little squares out of them, remove the halwa from the pan on a lightly greased (with ghee or butter) plate. Spread the halwa to about 3/4 inch thick and smooth out the top. After the halwa cools, cut in squares/diamonds.)
Garnish with cashew nuts or sliced almonds. Serve with Vanilla Ice Cream if you want.