Saturday, November 2, 2013

Carrot Halwa - words are insignificant when you need to describe "simply divine"

Happy Deepavali to all my readers who are celebrating the festival of lights. May this Deepavali bring awareness and remove the darkness of ego from all.
Some things leave a lasting impression in your life and teach you things that you will never forget. One of my childhood favorite books was a translated autobiography of a Marathi author, freedom fighter and teacher. Sane Guruji's Shyamachi Aayi has been translated into many languages and I had a hand me down copy of the Kannada version of it called , 'Shyamana Taayi (Shyama's mother'). It is a beautiful tale of a family with time attested human values. The book has travelled with me all these years and stays in my small personal collection of books I will never give away. I also noticed a lot of similarities between the parents in the book and my own. I haven't read the book in a long while but it just comforts me to think that it is in my reach anytime I want to read it :-).
The book is a celebration of the love and familial bond and the author tells them as stories to his disciples. In one of the episodes, there is a discussion about Deepavali or Diwali. The first day of the celebration starts with Naraka Chaturdashi or the day on which Lord Krishna kills the demon Narakasura. Narakasura is a metaphor for dirt and darkness and hence this day of Deepavali starts with cleaning or cleansing  - both external and internal. I remember getting up early morning to take a bath before anything else could be touched. Nammamma would be up late the previous night cleaning and scrubbing everything around the house including the big 'Hande' or the vessel used to heat water for bath. It would be dressed up with fresh yellow and orange marigold flowers and a beautiful, white design drawn with Rangoli powder in front of it. While we did our share of cleaning our rooms, tables, desks etc, nammamma had the major share of getting every single ounce of dust and dirt out of the house, almost akin to Spring cleaning here.

After the cleaning, the next logical step would be to set the house ablaze with a variety of yummy sweets and savories. There is no elaborate pooja ritual for Deepavali at home except that you would first make an offering to the Lord before eating. So, me and younger brother being the snack greedy people we are, love Deepavali more than other festivals for its complete lack of long waiting periods before the delicious things ended up in our plates :-). Yummm.
Some very common sweets made during this time were Gulab Jamoon, payasa/kheer, different mithais/burfis, carrot halwa, kasha halwa etc. I didn't have a sweet tooth as a child, give me a bowl of crispy, crunchy savories and I would get lost from this reality with a book of choice. Younger brother was just the opposite with a huge sweet tooth and anything sugary (but not syrupy) found its way into his shorts pockets as he headed out to play games with his friends :-).

I don't make as many varieties as my mom made for both lack of time and to avoid over eating. I chose to make a simple, 'anybody can get it right' but tastes heavenly carrot halwa to celebrate Deepavali this time. I love the simplicity of this dish, it is totally dummy proof as long as you pay attention to a few things, there is no syrup or consistency to watch for and if you have good quality carrots, you will end up with a delectable treat, added to all of this is the pretty, orange color of the soft halwa, total package. I love the bright orange bordering on the red hue of Delhi carrots you get during Indian winters, they are much sweeter than the regular variety you see all year. I found some in my local grocery store yesterday that sealed the choice of my Deepavali sweets :-)
As I said this dessert has very few ingredients and I like to add saffron as Nammamma does. Saffron being an expensive and not easily available item was not a regular feature in her kitchen shelves. But when my older brother brought a big box of it on one of his trips from US, amma was just thrilled. It was all the more precious since her own child had made the gesture to get something for amma from the money saved from his meagre student income :-). She used to put the saffron strands into almost every conceivable sweet dish she made while that box lasted.

Unlike the 'drenched in ghee' sweets, this uses a tiny bit of ghee to bring out the flavor of carrots, you need to adjust the amount of sugar based on how naturally sweet your carrots are. My akka sometimes crumbles fresh Nandini milk peda into the carrot halwa when it is nearing done stage for a richer taste, it tastes delicious-er (is that word?). I will not recommend this unless you can find fresh, good quality peda as otherwise it spoils the taste.
What do you need to make Carrot Halwa?
Yields 3.5-4 cups of halwa
I made this in the morning and it took me 1Hr and 45 minutes excluding grating the carrots. Although the time looks long, you don't have to fix yourself infront of it, manage the heat and use the timer to attend when needed.
6 cups grated carrots (4 large sized carrots)
3 cups milk (I used 2%)
1&1/4 - 1&1/2 cups sugar (adjust based on carrot sweetness)
4 green cardamoms
2 cloves
1/8 Tsp saffron (6-8 strands)
1.5 Tsp ghee - divided use
6-8 cashews (optional)
8-10 raisins (optional)
How do you make Carrot Halwa?
  • Soak saffron strands in 1 Tblsp of milk (use the milk from the measured quantity) for 10 minutes.
  • Pound cardamom seeds and cloves to a coarse powder and keep it aside.
  • Heat 1 Tsp ghee in a heavy bottom pan (preferably not non-stick)
  • Add the grated carrots, and mix well to coat them with ghee. Roasting carrots in pure ghee brings out the flavor beautifully.
  • Cover and cook for 5-6 minutes on medium heat.
  • Add the milk along with soaked saffron, mix, cover and cook for 6-8 minutes until milk starts to bubble.
  • Open the vessel and continue to cook for another 20 minutes until milk reduces and you get a nice cooked carrot fragrance..
  • Add sugar and continue cooking on low flame until everything comes together in a single mass. Milk has to evaporate and cook into the carrots. Takes about an 45-50 minutes for the quantity above.
  • Add the crushed cardamom and cloves at this stage.
  • Heat the remaining 1/2 Tsp ghee, roast the cashews until they turn crisp and light golden, add the raisins and sauté till raisins plump up. Add them to the Halwa.
  • Switch off and serve the halwa warm, chilled or at room temperature. A scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side makes it a delectable combination.
  • Do the whole cooking in low to medium heat, this takes time but the end result is worth every bit of it.
  • I like to use the small gratings for the carrots as I like the texture (it blends in smoothly), if they are grated using the big holes there is a chance that the final dish doesn't look homogeneous.
  • Ghee brings out the flavor of carrots, saffron, cardamom and cloves add to it. Raisins and cashews are just garnishes - now you know which ingredients you can or cannot skip :-)
  • The final consistency of this halwa is a delicately soft sweet, it is not sticky nor are they liquidy(as they are made out to be in restaurants) since the amount of ghee used is minimal.
  • Indian sweets are best made in a heavy/thick bottom metal vessel instead of the non stick or coated pans.


sashi said...

Happy Deepavali. I remember "Neer thumbo habba" -the prev night, cleaning the drum and waking early the next day for oil bath.

Nagashree said...

Thank you Sashi, wish you and everyone at home a Very Happy Deepavali too. Yes, neer tumbo habbada dina, hande would get cleaned and filled up, all ready for the next day's abhyanjana :-)

NamsVeni Pothas said...

happy Deepavali to all sattvaa readers. carrot halwa is real sweet dish with rich in vitamins. nice recipe with lovely pictures.
once again happy festival celebrations.

kitchen queen said...

delicious and lip smacking carrot halwa.

Sangeetha Priya said...

delicious halwa n like hte first click very much...