Halwa has to be one of my favourite desserts. It can be made with such a variety of ingredients and the best thing is that each has a unique and individual taste. It would be difficult to pick out a favourite- gajar halwa , pumpkin halwa, besan halwa, sooji halwa, sohan halwa, habshi halwa and the list goes on. Basically, the main ingredient is cooked in oil and sugar, and in some cases, milk. It sounds simple enough, but it’s one of those things that if you can make good halva, then people will know that you’re a good cook.
I wasn’t a big fan of sooji halwa served as a dessert when I was growing up; I associated it with occasions like milaads, khatams and funerals. Also, it was usually kind of dry and crumbly. It was AWESOME with channas and poori, though! Halwa poori is the best breakfast ever! It tasted much better too because it is kept especially soft and moist when served with pooris. But I really started enjoying it when I learnt to make it just how I like it :).
SOOJI (SEMOLINA) HALWA
My mother-in-law first taught me how to make this halwa. She was making it and I was just hanging out with her in the kitchen. And during the course of our conversation she would just point out what she was doing. She always did that when I first got married- whenever we were in the kitchen and she was making something, she would just outline the steps for me, giving me a lot of useful tips. Like a lot of girls, I only started cooking after I got married. So while I could do basic cooking and follow a recipe, she did make sure to show me whatever she could in the kitchen.
Sooji halwa can be made in a number of ways. This method makes what is called the ‘makhadi halwa.’ Color may be added, the most popular being pink, yellow or orange. But the expert cook will be able to give the sooji a beautiful golden color by caramelizing the sugar to just the right degree. It’s hard to achieve and needs practice, so initially it would be better to play it safe and go ahead with the pale color which is perfectly acceptable, and in fact, more popular.
This dessert is especially great on a chilly, rainy/overcast day. The soft, warm dessert just warms you from the inside and makes you feel all cozy… mmm.
The texture should be soft and smooth. It will set when cooled and may be eaten warm or cold. This makhadi sooji halwa is not suitable for serving with halwa poori.
1 cup sooji (semolina)
1¼ cups sugar
1 cup oil
1 cup water + more for soaking sooji
¼ tsp (heaped) green cardamom powder
Raisins & slivered almonds for garnishing (or any nuts of your choice)
[Update: In Pakistan, we used 1 cup of sugar for 1 cup of sooji. In the US, the sugar is not as sweet, so the quantity is increased.]
1. Measure the sooji in a bowl and completely cover with water (about 2- 2½ cups of water). Soak for at least 15 minutes.
2. Heat the oil and sugar in a pan over medium low heat until the sugar has melted and completely dissolved.
3. Just as the sugar mixture starts to change to a pale golden color (watch the sugar carefully as it can burn very quickly), add the sooji without draining the water. Add the 1 cup of water. Be careful as the mixture will be very hot and will splatter when water is added. Stir constantly using a metal or wooden spoon. (Non-stick utensils will not be able to withstand the high temperature of the sugar.)
Note: The sugar will solidify when you add the sooji. Don’t panic! It will melt as you stir.
4. The halwa will be bubbling as all the water evaporates. Add the green cardamom.
5. Stir fry on medium heat until all the water evaporates from the mixture and the halwa emits a ‘roasted’ smell, around 8 minutes. The sooji should not have a raw, powdery taste or smell at this point. It will also start to ‘leave’ the sides of the pan/pot. If, with the bubbling oil, you can’t tell when it’s ‘done,’ then watch until it just starts to change color. This will happen only when all the water has evaporated. Remove from heat immediately. Be careful not to overcook it.
6. Put into a serving bowl and garnish with nuts and raisins.
I have made all the mistakes that one can possibly make when making this halwa:
1. Too little oil: The halwa will stick to the bottom of the pan when it’s done and will be a bit dry.
2. Too much oil: Just pour out the excess after it’s cooked. I like to leave at least some of the oil in as it keeps the halwa moist.
3. Too little water: You will end up with lumpy halwa and it won’t be as soft or moist. Some people like it this way.
4. Too much water: The halwa is quite forgiving in this event. Eventually it will evaporate and make the halwa soft.
5. Too little sugar: The general rule is you can’t add more sugar after the halwa has been cooked. But my experience is if you taste it as soon as it’s done and feel like it needs more, then add some as quickly as possible while it’s still warm and soft and you will be able to mix it in. The other option is to caramelize the sugar – you will have a good chance of mixing the sugar in properly when it’s in liquid form.
6. Too much sugar: Eat it a liiiittle bit at a time.
7. Sugar doesn’t dissolve in the oil and forms lumps: The heat was too high. Turn down the heat and add a little bit (about ¼ cup) of water while stirring. The sugar will dissolve.
8. Over-browned sugar: Throw it in the trash.
9. It turns dark and sticky: You over-cooked it.
[Update: Tip: I use wooden spoons, so I have reserved one for desserts. Wood is porous so it absorbs flavors, and I don’t want a ‘masala‘ taste in my desserts.]
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