When food connects to a memory, there is a sense of warmth that crosses the heart.That time, those days, chatter, loud laughter, aroma of food, one thought after the other and I m suddenly transported to my grandma’s house where we had a huge aangan (backyard). I used to stroll through the vegetable patch soaking in the morning sun, brushing my teeth. We used to eat lunch after coming back from school there, sitting on charpai (four-legged cots),plucking & eating delicate garlic chives. When the sun decided to call it a day, we played in the mud while the gardener picked up potatoes and harvested the winter greens.
Oh Memories,so far are thee. yet so close in my heart…
Those sweet days are behind me but as I stir couple pounds of shredded carrot on stove, I think about the days when gajar halwa was made, my grandma just scraped, peeleed & grated all morning sitting there. There were no food processors then so she used a stainless steel rectangular grater placed on top of a large paraat. In between, she chatted with the lady who came in to clean the house or the next door aunt who stopped by for a cup of tea. She even tried giving me knitting lessons if I was just lazying around but the grating never stopped.
When there are few ingredients, the recipe gets all the more tricky,this is what I learned on my trip to India couple of months back. Everytime I made it, my halwa hardly came out good. I blamed it on the variety of carrots (we get those red, juicy carrots in India during winters) or on the quality of dairy blah blah… All my bad. I was mixing up steps in the recipe is what I realized.
In India, Halwa is usually an after meal or breakfast (like in my home) treat.Made with different kinds of vegetables, grains, fruits, nuts, seeds and even with lentils, it is a very popular thing when it comes to desserts.
Gajar Halwa is an indulgent confection of shredded carrots slow cooked in milk & ghee for hours. It is a winter speciality in northern parts of India. Too bad that I am making it at the fag-end of the season (yep, it almost feels like spring in my part of the world). There are a lot of recipes which use khoya (solidified milk),condensed milk to make it rather rich & decadent.I don’t add all those because I don’t want to steal away the taste of the carrots and also that much dairy makes it quite heavy. You can add a cup or so of khoya to this recipe towards the end if you like.
Ingredients (Makes 6-8 servings)
- 2 lb carrots (preferably organic, they make a lot of difference in taste)
- 2 tbsp + 1/2 cup ghee
- 1 cup + 3/4 cup whole milk,warmed
- 3/4 cup crystal sugar (can go to 1 cup)
- 1 tsp cardamom powder
- Almonds & Raisins or cashews for garnish (use roasted nuts of any kind you like)
Peel the carrots and thoroughly wash them under running water, air dry the carrots completely before proceeding to grate. Using the food processor, shred the carrots.
In a heavy bottomed kadhai/pan (preferably cast iron) on medium heat, tip in 2 tbsp ghee, after it melts, add the carrots. Mix nicely so that the carrots are coated in ghee. Let the carrots cook for about 20-25 minutes, uncovered. You can stir occasionally in between so that they do not stick to the bottom.You will see a lot of steam coming up and the carrot shreds start to break down but this is fine because we want to cook off the moisture.
After 20-25 minutes of cooking, add warm milk to the kadhai/pan. Be careful when you do so because there will be splutter. Combine the milk & carrots thoroughly. Now, again let the carrot & milk mixture cook on medium – low heat. You need to stir and move around so that nothing sticks to the bottom. Keep the heat low medium. We want the carrots to cook in milk and let the water of milk liquid evaporate leaving behind milk solids. This will take approximately 2- 3hours (or more depending on how juicy your carrots are).You will see the carrots turning a dark shade of orange and little drops of fat (from ghee & milk)on the sides of the pot, some of it might start sticking to the bottom of the pan, reduce the heat to low or take off from stove for few minutes if that happens.
After all the milk has evaporated, add the sugar. Immediately the carrots will become watery again. Don’t worry. Keep cooking. In about 20 minutes the water from sugar will evaporate. Add the ghee and keep on sautéing the carrots on low heat for another 15-20 minutes.At this point, you can try to pinch a little bit of carrots between your fingers, it should feel dryish. The point is to completely dry out the carrots, they should be glossy just because of ghee. The halwa will start clumping around the spoon and start leaving the pan/kadhai. It will be darkish orange in color and you won’t be able to see long shreds of carrots you started with.
Take the kadhai/pan off from the stove and add the chopped roasted nuts,cardamom powder & raisins and combine. Let the halwa sit for 10-15 minutes to cool down a bit.
Whenever you want to serve, reheat & serve garnished with more nuts.
Enjoy & Thanks for stopping by!