Oh sweet grain of Halva
My mother was here until last Monday, and I kid you not, she made the best halva of her mother career for us. It was one small little change in the simple foolproof recipe that she has been using all her life- she used lime instead of lemon and oh my was that a wonderful deviation.
The halva recipe follows the simple 1-2-3-4 rule, which is fool proof and depending on your unit of measure allows you to make more or less portions of halva. If you use a cup as a unit of measurement you should have enough desert for about six people.
Remember to allow some time for the halva to cool down slightly so that you can mould it into your chosen shape or individual portions.
This desert is easy, quick, cheap and everybody loves it. And the recipe is vegetarian, vegan and dairy free.
Here is how we do Halva in the Moutselou clan although admittedly I prefer to brown the halva a bit more than mom because of the toasted grain smell it releases in the house.
1 measure of olive oil
2 measures of coarse semolina
3 measures of sugar (you can easily reduce that to 2 or even replace with honey)
Peel of half or whole lime or lemon
1 cinnamon stick
A big handful of chopped walnuts
Some finely chopped walnuts for dusting and decoration
Some cinnamon powder for decoration
Prepare a syrup adding the boiled water, the sugar, a cinnamon stick and lime or lemon peel to a heat proof bowl or pan.
Stir the sugar until dissolved, cover and let it sit long enough to unleash the lime and cinnamon flavours[i].
Heat the olive oil in a pan (preferably non stick) until it’s almost sizzling.
Add the semolina to the pan and brown, stirring continuously and until it reaches your preferred shade of semolina brown[ii].
Add a big handful of coarsely chopped walnuts halfway through your browning action.
Remove the lemon/lime peel, stir the syrup in the pan of browned semolina and either remove from heat or lower to minimum whilst you continue stirring.
Remove from heat and discard the cinnamon stick.
Let the halva mixture cool down for five minutes or more.
Mould either in a bundt cake tin or a loaf tin or in individual moulds of your choice, e.g. Greek coffee cups for smaller portions.
Dust with cinnamon powder and decorate with finely ground walnuts and.
Let the halva cool down before serving. The halva is delicious cold when left in the fridge overnight.
If you wish serve with grapes and decorate with single (soya) cream
[i] The longer you leave your syrup to sit the more flavoursome it will be but if you are in a rush you can just let it sit whilst you go through the next few steps.
[ii] Many people like to toast the semolina very slightly and until it absorbs the oil- if you prefer this your halva can look very pale and almost beige and could be very light. I love to brown the semolina to a heavier complexion but I would recommend a light tan for most beginners.
[iii] You will see the semolina expand.
The return of the humble: the sardine
Sardine is a humble nutritious fish that has offered me many meals at home and in taverns throughout my life.
We used to buy sardines in cone shaped newspapers. Mr Giorgos, the fishmonger in Thessaloniki’s Kifisia, the neighbourhood I grew up, used to fill them generously with big handfuls.
Saturday has always been a fish day at my parents house in Greece and also the day that mom looks forward to her little glass of ouzo or raki with some sardines or gavros (small fresh anchovies) as a starter. In the depth of winter we would grill sardines or bake them in tomato sauce in the oven. On sunny mild days and in the summer we would marinate them in with herbs, lemon and sometimes freshly grated tomatoes to grill outside attracting neighbours for an ouzo meze sit-down and most of the cats in the neighbourhood.
Below is a simple sardine recipe with a Ghanaian twist, a variation of an oven recipe I have enjoyed many times.
- 10 meaty and large sardines
- 3-4 freshly grated tomatoes or 2 grated tomatoes and half a tin of chopped tomatoes
- A large handful of kalamata olives pited and roughly chopped
- 1 full teaspoon of Ghanaian Shito sauce (optional)
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Salt and pepper
- Oregano (2-3 pinches)
- Mix the tomatoes, Shito sauce, olives, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and oregano in a kitchen chopper for a few seconds, until just coarse but well mixed.
- Taste and season accordingly and if needed.
- Place the sardines in a baking tray, mix well in the marinade.
- Bake in a hot and then medium oven for 20 minutes or until cooked.
- Or if the barbequing season has started somewhere in the world where you might be, grill and enjoy out side. I guarantee that the sardines will taste even better.
Shito sauce is a Ghanaian sauce that consists primarily of fish oil and/or vegetable oil, ginger, dried fish and/or crustaceans, tomatoes, garlic and spices. It should be used in small quantities if you don’t like your dishes too spicy and hot. And it can be quite oily.
Fresh fish has clear eyes (non cloudy), red gills and a natural arch or curve. Buy wisely.