The warm aroma of cardamom in the kitchen brings a feeling of comfort and a smile. Halwa is often made to offer on an altar. Its heart-opening sweetness is welcome after satsang: ninety minutes of meditation, bhakti (devotional chanting) and a spiritual talk. It’s extra nice when infused with the good vibes of a yogi group. You can also make it to have with tea when you have guests, for a picnic or as a family desert, having stirred in plenty of love.
Indian halwa is made with semolina – ground wheat – so don’t confuse it with the middle eastern sweetmeat of the same name made from sesame. Also note it’s not gluten-free. Normally the recipe would use ghee, butter that has been boiled so that the milk solids are separated. For the vegan version it’s very simple to substitute coconut oil which gives a rich, creamy, melt-in-the-mouth feel.
Halwa comes with many spice, nut/seed or dried fruit options: cinnamon, saffron, rose water, almonds, sesame, pecans, apricots, dates…you can substitute what you like, but my advice is keep it simple: one spice, one nut/seed, one dried fruit. Try to get rose water made with real roses as the synthetic version, while very aromatic, does not have such a good feeling. I honed my halwa variations at the Sivananda Yoga Centre where a ‘cooked’ prasad signified a special or weekend gathering; the weekday offering is cut up fruit.
Enjoy your halwa!
Ingredients 20 servings
- 200ml water, plus a bit more from the kettle
- 150g fairtrade organic caster sugar, raw if you can get it
- 75 ml coconut oil guesstimate by proportioning the jar – a little too much is not a problem
- 5 cardamom pods
- 200g fine semolina
- 50g cashew pieces not a problem if you feel like more
- 50g sultanas likewise
- break open the cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar. Pick out the paper and grind the seeds a bit more. A fine powder is not necessary
- have a tray type serving dish or plate ready, approx 40 x 20 cm
- put the water in a pan with the sugar, sultanas and the ground cardamom seeds. On a lowish heat allow the sugar to dissolve, stirring occasionally you’ll be enjoying the cardamom aroma very soon. Keep an eye on the pan that it doesn’t boil, the sultanas will plump up and cardamom release its aromatic compounds
- melt the coconut oil on a low heat in a frying pan if it’s a warm day it will be liquid already (24 degrees melting point)
- pour in the semolina and stir, ensuring even mixing in of the oil. It will be a dry mix. Keep toasting the semolina in the pan, add the cashew pieces, stirring it until it has changed to a more golden brown colour stay with the pan, not stirring constantly but every 10 seconds or so for 10 -15 minutes.
- repeat your mantra mentally or out loud , chant or simply think loving thoughts. Attention may fade, and the semolina catches! Just stir in the extra toasted layer and bring back your focus. By now the toasty smell is permeating the house and people are coming to see what’s cooking.
- Get ready: time to pour in the water. It can spit and you need to be quick with the mixing in off the syrup. Stir quickly with a wooden spoon, maybe adding more water from the kettle. Semolina seems to be able to expand quite a lot! Get the consistency of a soft dough and tip the ball onto your serving dish. Smooth it out and allow to cool
- With a knife cut across the dish two ways making diamond shapes and serve with a spoon from the dish
This is the smaller portion of a double batch made for Viveka Gardens Visioning II. It’s piled into a silly pudding shape (don’t do this at home), and styled with my hosts’ Natasha’s Goan father’s cup, and Nick’s mother’s fruity brass spoon. Was declared yummy.