Carrot Halvah

January 12, 2008 at 10:56 pm (B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Derek's faves, Dessert, Indian, Other, Other)

I’ve mentioned previously how much I love sesame seed halvah, and although it is bears only a hazy relationship to the middle eastern sesame dessert, I really like Indian-style carrot halwah as well. Derek adores the carrot halwa at Vatan in NYC, and we’ve tried a number of recipes without much success at replicating it. However, when I saw this recipe in my new cookbook Ajanta, I was certain it was authentic.

You combine 3/8 pound grated carrots and 1 quart whole milk in a saucepan and cook for an hour, whisking frequently. After an hour you add 6 Tbs. butter, 3/8 cup sugar, and cardamom seeds and cook for another 30 minutes to 1 hour. Before serving you sprinkle with slivered almonds and pistachio pieces.

The instructions say to make the halvah in a saucepot, so I selected my 2 quart saucepot which is relatively narrow. In retrospect, given how long it took the milk to reduce, I think it might have been preferable to choose a saucepot with a wider opening. At first we tried cooking the milk and carrot mixture over medium heat but after an hour it was barely reduced. When we turned the heat up we had to whisk it very regularly to keep it from burning. Even so, we did sear the bottom a bit.

The final halvah was almost identical to the one from Vatan: the texture was very moist and thick (almost sliceable), and the flavor was carrot-y, buttery, and had a very subtle sweetness and a strong cardamom presence. Personally, I thought it was just a bit too rich and could have used less butter, but Derek loved it. We both liked the strong cardamom flavor that was emitted whenever we would bite into a cardamom seed, but I thought a bit more cardamom flavor throughout would be good, and could be achieved by adding a bit of ground cardamom. Derek disagreed.

I’d like to make this again, but I have to admit that it took a lot of attention and time. It wasn’t a huge deal since we were near the stove making all the other dishes for our Indian extravaganza, but I have to wonder if the recipe can be simplified. Why does it have you start with milk and then reduce it for over an hour? Clearly the carrots have to cook down, but couldn’t you start with cream, or at least half and half? Is there some reason that cream would yield a different taste or texture then starting with milk? Or maybe it’s just harder to get cream in India? Also, I’d like to try it with less butter. I’m guessing that the texture would be less firm if I did that, but that’s okay with me as I actually prefer my halvah soupy. I actually poured extra milk over mine to cut the butteriness a bit, and make it moister.

One last note: this saucepot I made the halvah in was probably the most challenging dish I’ve ever had to clean. Even after soaking it for 2 days I could not get it clean. The hardened milk on the sides was invulnerable to everything I threw at it, including my previously infallible cherry pits scrub. I didn’t have any brillo pads, but I think they would have helped.

Rating: B+
Derek: B+

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