INDIAN-STYLE halava bears little resemblance to the Middle Eastern halavah confection made from honey and crushed sesame seeds. Indian halava is sweet, succulent, and buttery and is served fresh just off the stove, still hot or warm. Halava is surely India's most famous sweet dish.
I've heard halava described as "mouth-watering," "ambrosial," "delectable," and even "sublime." Words elude me for describing halava well. Elegant in its simplicity, it can be made in numerous varieties and cooked to different consistencies. Well prepared from first-class ingredients and offered to the Lord for His pleasure, halava prasadam is greatly relished.
Ingredients and Varieties of Halava
The most popular and easy-to-make halava is made from sooji, Indian semolina. You slowly toast the alabaster-hued semolina in ghee until it turns golden brown, then simmer it in fragrant sugar syrup until the grains grow plump and expand many times to yield a fluffy pudding. Sooji is sold in Indian grocery stores and offers the most traditional results. Outside India, locally processed semolina or farina is likely fresher and more convenient and makes very good halava.
Denser, richer, and far more labor-intensive halavas are made from wet-ground mung or urad dal. They're popular choices for wedding or holiday menus.
Another kind of halava is made from vegetables boiled in sweetened rich milk and reduced to an almost fudgelike consistency. Some commonly used vegetables are shredded orange carrots (gajar), whitish-green winter melon (petha), or fine-fleshed bottle gourd (louki).
On holy days observed by fasting from grains, halava can be made from buckwheat flour or dried banana flour.
You can make a naturally sweet variety of halava with ghee, a sweetener, mashed tropical fruits, and perhaps light cream, legume flour, or fresh chenna cheese. You cook the ingredients together until thick to produce a rich halava to serve in small amounts.
If you're following the cooking class series, refer to the class textbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine, and make three or four kinds of semolina halava, and one or two vegetable or fruit halavas.
India has produced sugar for thousands of years, and its shops stock refined sugars, an unrefined cane sugar called gur, an unrefined sweetener from the tal tree called jaggery, and a few other regional sweeteners. You can use almost any kind of sweetener in halava. What I recommend, if you can find them, are golden-blond organic raw cane sugar, darker turbinado crystals, still darker date and maple sugar crystals, and pure white fructose. Note: I have a light hand with sugar in halava recipes (about half of what might be used in an Indian kitchen), so add more if you prefer. Also, according to the Ayur Veda, honey should not be boiled, so do not use it in a halava syrup to replace sugar.
Srila Prabhupada on Halava
Srila Prabhupada often said that good halava means good ghee. That means fresh, pure homemade ghee, either plain or flavor-infused with something like cloves, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, or black pepper. On several occasions he praised devotee cooks when their halava was made well, and he taught many cooks and managers to make and distribute halava prasadam.
Srila Prabhupada often called prasadam distribution the secret weapon for spreading Krsna consciousness. When devotees give out prasadam, especially in India, the servings almost always include halava, often with puris (deep-fried flat-breads) and a subji (vegetable dish). In a 1977 letter to ISKCON temple presidents, Srila Prabhupada requested puris, subji, and halava or pakoras (deep-fried breaded vegetables) for every temple visitor. On one occasion, Srila Prabhupada was pleased to hear that during a two-day ISKCON festival Indian women from Durban had cooked ¼ ton of halava and 8,000 puris for the crowd.
As devotees celebrated Srila Prabhupada's Centennial last year, tons of halava must have been distributed in honor of Srila Prabhupada's instructions. Let us, generation after generation, keep giving out halavaprasadam. Jaya Srila Prabhupada! Jaya Sri Krsna-prasadam!
Yamuna Devi is the author of the award-winning cookbooks Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking and Yamuna's Table. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post andVegetarian Times. Write to her in care of BTG.
2 ½ cups (590 ml) water or milk
1 cup (240 ml) sugar
¼ teaspoon (1.25 ml) saffron threads
¼ cup (60 ml) dried currants
½ cup (120 ml) ghee or unsalted butter
¾ to 1 cup (180-240 ml) semolina or farina
¼ cup (60 ml) toasted almonds
Combine the water or milk and sugar in a saucepan and, stirring, bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, add the saffron and currants, and cover.
Place the ghee or butter in a pan over moderate heat. When the ghee or butter is hot, add the semolina or farina and stir and toast until it's golden brown.
Remove the pan from the heat and, stirring, slowly pour in the liquid. (The grains may sputter at first.) Place the pan over the heat and stir until all the liquid is absorbed and the grains swell. Garnish with toasted almonds and offer to Krsna.