Have you ever made a bowl of Cream of Wheat cereal and not been able to eat it right away? Maybe you had to tend to a fussy baby, a pesky telemarketer or a parcel delivery (hurray for on-line shopping). No matter the interruption, when you finally settled in to add milk to your porridge, you were faced with a solid mass of wheat semolina. The fact that, as semolina sits it firms up, is what halva banks on.
The halva recipe which we are sharing here is grain-based and not the same thing as the nut butter or tahini based crumbly dessert with which it is often confused (no kidding, since they both go by the same name!). This halva is semolina based and has a soft and somewhat gelatinous texture. It is a great dessert to pull together when you have unexpected company or a sudden onset of sweet tooth-itis. Because halva is not baked, it can be made quite quickly, and is ready to eat as soon as it cools and retains it’s shape. An added bonus is that halva does not contain eggs or any dairy products, making it a wonderful treat for anyone following a vegan diet or for those abstaining from eggs and dairy during lent.
We don’t want to scare you away from making this recipe, but we do want to be sure you are aware that when you combine the sugar syrup to the semolina mixture, you may have some splattering. For this reason, it is very important to cook the semolina in a large, deep pot, and to add the liquid syrup slowly, and off the heat.
When we make halva we usually allow it to take shape in a bundt pan or a jell-o ring mould. You can use anything to shape this dessert however. We have made halva by pouring it into a rectangular baking pan, and then cutting square serving pieces. We have allowed it to set in silicone teddy bear moulds (just because we had them). We once even used a small cookie scooper to make balls of halva which we allowed to cool on a baking sheet. The possibilities are endless, however we still find that the bundt pan or round jell-o mould give the prettiest presentation. No matter what you use, be sure that it is heat resistant as you will add the halva to it while it is still hot.
We have noticed that some halvas appear to be a bit darker than our parents is. We think that this is because many people add ground cinnamon to their halva, whereas our parents use cinnamon sticks to flavour the syrup; this way you get a more subtle cinnamon taste without darkening the halva too much.
Our parents like to add raisins to their halva, but consider the semolina base to be your blank canvas; you can experiment with your add-ins. In case you would like some inspiration, we have also made halva by adding slivered almonds, dried cranberries, pine nuts and various combinations of these.
Mia Kouppa: Halva
- 2 cups thick semolina
- 1 cup Greek olive oil
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 6 cups water
- Peel of one lemon
- Peel of one orange
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 4 cardamon pods
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
- In a medium saucepan combine the water, sugar, lemon and orange peels, cinnamon sticks and cardamon pods. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and simmer, covered, for approximately 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Remove spices and peels from the syrup and discard them.
- In a large pot heat the olive oil and the semolina over medium heat. Stir well and cook, stirring constantly until the semolina starts to brown slightly and smells toasty. Move pot off of the burner for the next step.
- Very carefully, add the syrup to the pot with the semolina and oil. It will likely splatter, so be very careful and be sure that there are no children or pets near the oven. Once all of the syrup has been added, return the pot to the heat. Reduce heat to low-medium.
- Add in the raisins and the orange blossom water. Stir constantly. The mixture will thicken and begin to pull away from the sides as you stir it. When it has reached this consistency, remove from the heat and let it sit for a couple of minutes.
- Ladle the mixture into a lightly greased mould, such as a bundt pan or a jell-o mould. You can use any mould you like, so long as it is heat resistant. Let the halva cool and refrigerate for at least one hour. Remove from mould and cut into serving pieces.