I recently heard the phrase “as American as apple pie” used somewhere and I found this information in one of the discussion boards:
“As American as apple pie” implies the improvement of what was once British; it is the mark of prosperity, freedom, and status as the apple pie represented to our ancestors. It is not a mistaken saying or an ignorant remark. It’s about the thick, two-crusted pie we made; the pie our ancestors longed for and cherished in their free homeland. It’s about patriotism and struggle to be an American, to live the American dream.
I agree there are some foods that tell a lot about us as a culture and if I had to pick one dish that symbolizes all that is Indian, It would be the Halwa ( no , not Kheer – the rice pudding- most of my canadian friends are fond of!). This thought struck me last week when I was making Halwa last week for my family. The Halwa has something for everyone. For me it symbolizes all the good and not so good things about us as indian people – There are as many variations of the Halwa as there are regions in India, it is delicious and bold (unlike the kheer), a bit too sweet and sometimes to oily….. 😛 !!! I think it is an acquired taste!
If I were to wait on this post till the time I were to make all the variations I know, this post would not be published for a long time . Hence I thought of linking you up with some of my favourite recipes and variations of halwa. The basic premise is same – A fruit, grain or nut base cooked in Ghee with sugar, some spices and nuts thrown in.
Gajar Halwa (sometimes known as Gajrela)
I would call this the king of all halwas- because it is my favourite and I think this is the most packaged halwa of any kind. It is mostly made in North of India. The main ingredients are freshly grated carrots, milk, sugar and ghee. Here in the west , we mostly get the Orange carrot but the best of halwas are made from the red carrot from India or pakistan.
Sooji Halwa- sometimes called Sheera in some parts of the country
This version has the semolina as its base and I think this is among the most popular home cooked deserts. It’s simple and easy to make and probably that’s the reason It is not available in package or sold in sweet shops. There is a south indian and a north Indian version of this. While the ingredients are same, the key difference (at least what I know of ) is in the process. In the first version, roasted semolina is added to boiling water and in the latter warm water is added to roasted semolina. You’d think it would not make a lot of difference, but it does make a difference in the find texture of the dish and its experience.
This halwa has Wheat flour as its base and is another simple and easy desert to make at home.
The most popular version of this time of halwa is to be found in Sikh places of worship where it is served as prasad (sacred food ). I remember me and my friends would go to the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara in Delhi and sit for langar (communal food service) only to have this delightful desert. The best version uses equal amount of Wheat flour, ghee and sugar. If my memory serves me right, it is a a bit less solid, bit more oily and hits a high sweet note , but I am almost certain you would go back for more.
Click on the picture to be led to the prasad recipe. You can also find another recipe here.
The Kerala special black Halwa is something most of my north- Indian friends might not be familiar with but it was a must- bring from our annual visit to grandma’s house in Kerala. I am told that there are a few version of this halwa and you would find slight variation in flavour in different regions of Kerala. This is the Halwa I have the strongest emotional connection with. It bring the memories of my late grandmother with it. It uses lot more spicier than its northIndian counterparts and it takes looooooooong time to make(the easy version takes 2-3 hours to prepare- figure that !) a total labour of love. The base ingredient is rice powder and the only one that uses jaggery and in some versions molasses too.
If you are already tired of reading about the halwa, wait there are some more version:
Badam Halwa- with Almonds as it base ingredient. For recipe click here
Dal Halwa- With yellow moong lentils as its base. For recipe click here
These are the only one that I have seen prepared in my home in India and I am sure there are still many more I am yet to make. Like I said, Halwa is as Indian as can be- Such diversity, such flavour yet there is some common process that brings it all together under one umbrella.
Let me know about other dishes that reflect their culture. I would surely be interested in learning.