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.
How did Petra and her recipe enter my life? How do you summarise a friendship?
I will never forget the first time I saw Petra’s smiley face in the corridors of City and Regional Planning, Cardiff University, when she came over to Wales as a visiting researcher. I remember long nights with emotional conversations and loud laughter. I remember dancing at the Toucan on St Mary Street and Journeys on Clifton Street.
In August 2011, I found Petra again. Crete returned to me a friend, as well as serenity and a sense of home. But then again that is also what a good friend gives. I hugged Petra tightly after 5 years during which our individual journeys were coinciding and sometimes merging in the ether, without us knowing: searching, coping, understanding and finding.
In Crete, the land that generously offers good food and sun, we met and talked about food, love, life and dreams again. It’s good to be reminded of all that bonds you deeply with another person.
My friend Petra loves food, cooking and life. She is also a rural sociologist who is passionate about sustainable food and approaches the subject from a cultural angle: understanding cultures and consumerist patterns, and changing attitudes. She teaches and researches at the University of Wageningen, the Netherlands and build a ‘Food Cultures and customs’ course in 2010. And last year Petra was also a part-time organic farmer for the growing season. What a woman!
Petra writes for a couple of blogs: the rural sociology group blog, university of Wageningen and Pure Food links, a sustainable food network blog. Recently, she visited Brasil and, in a couple of entries at the end of October and November 2011, she tell us about national school food programmes, and particularly Dos Irmáos School ,the Rio Grande do Sul, which she visited. Legislation requires that 30% of fresh produce used in school food comes from local farms: shortening the supply chain with various possible good impacts for the environment, economy, etc. springing to my mind at first glimpse.
Apart from the curry she recommended this month, when I think of Petra and food two dishes spring to mind: garlic and chilli prawns served with fresh bread, and roast lamb. I remember a roast lamb dinner when suddenly it dawned on us that everyone around the dining table was a Libra, with the exception of me who was born on the cusp: what a strange coincidence that so many of us hanging out regularly, making lasting friendships, were born within a month of each other either in the same year or a couple of years apart either way.
I adapted Sarah Raven’s chickpea curry recipe recommended by Petra and whilst cooking her felt presence in Cardiff once again.
- 1.5 -2 cups of brown rice
- 3-4 cups of boiling water
- 2 onions
- 5 garlic cloves
- Approx 500 gr of green and purple curly kale
- 2 tins of cooked chickpeas (drained well)
- 2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 small sweet potatoes peeled and diced
- 2 tspns, spice of life curry mix
- Approx. 50 gt grated ginger
- 1 red chilli pepper
- Approx. 250gr mixed mushrooms (portabella and chestnut in this occasion)
- 1 stick lemongrass
- Juice and zest of 1 lime
- 1 tin of coconut milk
- 1 bunch fresh coriander
- A pinch of shrimp paste
- Some paprika
- Salt and pepper to season if required
- Put the rice on to simmer: its preparation should take as long as cooking your curry.
- Remove the stems from the kale and chop the leaves in strips. Blanche or Steam them for 5 minutes, drain well and set aside.
- Peel, chop, dice and steam the carrots and sweet potatoes for 10 min. Drain and set aside.
- Fry the onion gently in the oil until soft. Add the curry powder, fresh ginger, chili, salt and pepper and stir.
- The Spice of life curry powder I used is mixed in house by Gareth, in house, and contains coriander, cumin, fenugreek, garlic, paprika, turmeric, pepper, curry leaf, asafetida, ginger, chilly, mustard, cassia, cardamom, mace & bay.
- Next, add the garlic and then the mushroom, lemongrass and lime juice and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add the cooked chickpeas (drain and rinse tinned ones), coconut milk, mushrooms, shrimp paste and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Finally add the kale to the chickpea mixture. Sarah Raven’s sauce adds soy and fish sauces at this stage, but I replaced this with just a bit of shrimp paste, the size of a very 2 peas.
- Scatter with coarsely chopped coriander, over a good portion of rice.
Tip: I froze a couple of portions of the curry and save for yummy lunches this week. This dish was as delicious when defrosted and consumed two weeks after I cooked it.