Winter is about to end, Spring is around the corner – yet my lust for desserts isn’t satiated.
I may well be a sweet summer child, but there’s definitely something about autumn-winter produce.
Luscious strawberries, delicious apples, tart oranges, fresh bunches of spinach and mustard greens, bright peas nestled in their crisp pods, earthy beetroot, pungent radish, and of course the star – carrots.
Whether be it savoury or sweet, carrots have been an integral part of cuisines around the world. Like potatoes, tomatoes, and a whole host of other ingredients, carrots were brought to India by European settlers – most likely the Dutch, who were among the first cultivators of the modern orange carrot.
Speaking of settlers, it was the Mughals who introduced the ‘Halva‘ — originally a Persian sweet delicacy made of wheat flour, butter, honey and rose water. Nonetheless, it was well-adapted by the locals, in our case the Punjabis.
There’s hardly a dish, let alone a dessert, that exists in the repertoire of Punjabi cuisine that fails to entice me.
Of all Indian desserts, Gajar ka Halwa [Carrot Pudding] is my absolute favorite.
It sings to me of its ghee-laden richness and deliriously sweet glory. It is one of the few desserts that are widespread, popular, and has achieved almost a cult-like status. And it very well deserves it.
Carrots first sautéed in homemade desi ghee, blanketed in cardamom-laced sugar with a dash of saffron, sprinkled with chopped nuts providing the much needed earthiness —it’s nothing short of a gastronomic paradise.
I remember Didi making it for me – almost a small kadhai’s worth of halwa, sneaked away from prying eyes [and hands], not meant to be shared.
Yeah. I was a glutton back then. That was when I was in school. I’ve grown out of that phase now. [Or maybe not. Ask me before you touch my halwa. 😉]
Here’s the recipe while I help myself to a couple of bowls.
Gajar ka Halwa
- Servings: 6 – 8
- Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
- Difficulty: Easy
- 500g red carrots
- 60g desi ghee
- 250mL milk
- 150g sugar
- 5g cardamom sugar
- 1 pinch saffron [or 1 teaspoon saffron essence]
- 30g khoya [condensed milk solids]
- 60g nuts of your choice — I use a mix of almonds and pistachios
- Silver varqh [edible silver leaf], optional
- Clean, peel and grate the carrots using a medium-holed grater.
- Soak the saffron in half a cup of milk.
- Grate the khoya, set aside.
- In a hot pan, add some ghee and sauté the nuts until light golden. Drain the nuts, roughly chop them once cool enough to handle.
- In a large thick-bottomed saucepan [or a kadhai], heat the remaining ghee.
- Add the grated carrots and sauté for a good 5-10 minutes.
- Once the carrots caramelize, add the milk as well as the saffron.
- Reduce the heat to low. Cook the carrots until the all the milk has evaporated, stirring continuously.
- When the milk has evaporated, gradually add the sugar as well as the cardamom sugar. Stir once in a while to avoid sticking at the bottom.
- Once the carrots begin to leave the sides of the pan, add the khoya. Mix well until the khoya is well incorporated.
- Remove from heat. Add half the chopped nuts, and mix well.
Portion out the halwa in dessert bowls, ice-cream coupes, or even champagne saucers. Sprinkle with the remaining chopped nuts. Serve warm with a dollop of sweetened crème fraîche, or a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.
- I prefer using a medium-holed grater, since it yields carrots that are not too soft or too large to bite. Depending on your choice of grate, your cooking time may slightly vary.
- Prepare your own cardamom sugar — pop open 10-12 cardamom pods in 30g of regular sugar, and blitz unto a coarse powder. Or else, use 1 teaspoon of cardamom powder if available.
- When I don’t have saffron available at hand, I use saffron syrup. It works just as well, just reduce a couple of teaspoons of sugar.
- Khoya lends that richness and mouthfeel to the final product. No access to khoya? Don’t worry. Use condensed milk instead, and reduce an equal quantity of sugar.
- To cut down on time, use any of the following methods —
- Microwave: Cook the grated carrots in a microwave oven at high power for 7-10 minutes [varies from machine to machine]. Sauté in ghee and proceed as regular.
- Pressure Cooker: Sauté the grated carrots in ghee for a good 5-10 minutes. Add milk, cover with the lid, and pressure cook on medium for 2 whistles. Once the pressure is normal, remove the lid, and proceed as regular.
What Wine to Pair with?
An excellent Sauternes from France, late harvest Chenin Blanc, or simply an Ice Wine. One pairing I’m told of is Tokaji Aszú [toe-kaay ah-sue] from Hungary.
Which Indian dessert is your favorite? Let me know in the comments.