Let me just start off by saying that I can make other desserts besides halwa! But since the fall season arrived, everyone in the blogging community has been putting out fantastic fall recipes and I don’t want to get left behind! Everyone is enjoying their pumpkin favorites; from the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks that seems to be very popular, going on to muffins, cupcakes, pies, the list is endless. But there is a desi pumpkin recipe too, that might not be as well known: Pumpkin Halwa!
Growing up, the only thing that I knew about pumpkins was through Disney’s Cinderella. I pictured them to be big and orange and I had no idea that you could eat them. But one day, my father started talking about how the petha kaddu was in season, and we should get one and make halwa. And the next day, there it was- he brought home this big light green thing, that my mother told me was a pumpkin! That completely threw me, because I had no idea that pumpkins could be green too. And pumpkin halwa? What? Pakistanis eat pumpkins? I thought it only existed in the world of fairytales.
Our cook, rising to the challenge, made a delicious golden-brown halwa that I simply loved. (Looking back, I have to say that I didn’t give my parents trouble about trying out new things to eat. Sigh! The kids these days!!!) Every evening I would warm some up for myself; I remember literally relishing each and every bite. I even remember taking tiny bites to make the serving last longer.
The next few years saw some very rapid growth of a local bakery chain, and one fall they started selling some freshly made pumpkin halwa too. They had limited quantities and it would sell out every day. I tried it for the first time when someone brought it to a picnic that I went to with a friend’s family. It was completely different from the halwa that we made at home. It was light green with lots of khoya, which is made by cooking milk until it is reduced to a solid, while the kind we made at home did not have milk in it.
It was deeeeelicious! I guess I really like pumpkin.
So, pumpkin halwa became a staple in my house every year; my father and I especially liked it.
After coming to the US, when I was in Jackson, MS, I used to shop for produce at the local farmer’s market. During fall, of course, a huge stock of pumpkins of all shapes and sizes came in. I decided to try making the halwa. I divided the pulp in half, and made both kinds of halwa, with and without milk. My husband and I agreed that we liked the one with milk better.
So, that’s the recipe that I will share here, in memory of my late father’s favorite desserts.
It all starts with a pumpkin. I tested my pumpkin recipes with both fresh and canned pumpkin. The good thing about canned pumpkin, as opposed to most other canned goods is that it contains only pumpkin puree. No preservatives or additives.
But the flavor of a fresh pumpkin is unmatched. However, I think that in case you can’t get your hands on one or if it’s out of season, then canned pumpkin puree is definitely a usable option.
Coming back to fresh pumpkins, I have seen people advising on their blogs to use a big Cinderella pumpkin for cooking. This is simply not true. Big Cinderella pumpkins are only good for decoration and carving. Please do not use them for cooking.
Small pumpkins called Pie Pumpkins or Sugar Pumpkins are suitable for cooking. They are much sweeter and have more flavor. I would advise you to go to your local farmer’s market to purchase them, as they will be local and farm fresh. Of course, they are also easily available in grocery stores when in season.
Not to re-invent the wheel, I found a great post by Angela Liddon of ohsheglows.com on How to Roast a Sugar Pumpkin & Make Fresh Pumpkin Puree. It has great pictures and simple instructions. Roasting a pumpkin to cook the flesh, remove the skin and make a puree is very, very easy. Please do not let the idea of doing it stop you from purchasing a fresh pumpkin. The flavor in your dish will be absolutely worth it.
The point to note here is that in Pakistan, we didn’t make a puree before making the halwa. Pumpkin flesh is fibrous, and making a puree will make it lose that fibrous quality and make it uniform and smooth. Some people prefer to have that texture in the halwa; it makes it taste closer to the original texture of the pumpkin. And some people might like it to be completely smooth. It’s up to you.
Because canned pumpkin is pureed, it will always be smooth. In my experience, fresh pumpkin puree is sweeter than canned pumpkin puree . Canned pumpkin is also darker than the beautiful golden orange of a fresh pumpkin.
Pumpkin Halwa or Kaddu Halwa
Note: This recipe yields a small quantity, about 3 servings.
1 15oz can pumpkin puree OR 2 cups mashed/pureed fresh pumpkin
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 cups milk
1/3 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp green cardamom powder
Nuts for garnishing (slivered almonds, pistachios, cashews, coconut)
- In a saucepan, reduce the milk on medium heat until about 2/3 cup remains. Stir constantly or very frequently to prevent it from burning. Keep aside.
- Melt the butter in a separate pot on medium low heat. Add pumpkin and fry for about 8-10 minutes, until all the water evaporates and it emits a roasted aroma.
- Add the milk and fry until all the liquid evaporates, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the cardamom and stir for a few seconds.
- Add the sugar and stir fry for another 5 minutes, or until all the liquid evaporates completely.
- Remove from the heat, garnish with nuts of your choice (and cream if desired) and serve warm.
Halwa generally calls for a good amount of fat, but I use very little butter in this recipe because I use a very good non stick pot. If you don’t have a non stick pot, and the pumpkin is sticking to the bottom, then add another 4 tbsp of butter.
The entire trick to making a good halwa is to stir fry and bhoonofy it properly. It is important not to overcook it, but it is also important not to leave it undercooked.
Do not leave the milk unattended! Either stir constantly on medium heat, or reduce it on low heat, stirring occasionally.
I like to reduce the milk separately, oscillating between medium high and medium heat because it’s quicker. However, I stir the milk constantly to keep it from burning and boiling over. Reducing the milk after adding it to the halwa takes very long because the halwa is cooked on medium low heat. I also don’t like to keep my halwa on the heat for that long.
When you first add in the pumpkin, it will spread on to the entire pot.
When the halwa is done, it won’t stick anymore. It will fall in, folding in on itself, somewhat like a ribbon.
The color is also a good indication of how much to cook it. When all the liquid has evaporated, it will begin to change color and get darker. This tells you that it is done. Remove it from the heat as soon as you see the change in color.
And in case you’re wondering, pumpkin halwa tastes similar to pumpkin pie filling! Hope you enjoy it!
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