A Gajar Ka Halwa laced with memories. Photo: Bhavna Kalra
There are many north Indians who can trace their lineage all the way to Pakistan. And so can I. My grandfather moved from Multan in Pakistan to India after the Partition. He was a giant of a man, very handsome, tall, and proud with a mop of curly white hair, which made him totally stand out.
My grandfather loved his food. He would talk about the food from home as a part of his life that he sorely missed. He'd often start a sentence with "Humare Multan main" (in our Multan), which would often end up with an instruction to my mom to something that was deep fried and or something sweet. He remembered each alleyway, each nook and corner and every sweetmeat shop that sold the most delicious food.
Even though he was out of Multan, it was never out of him. He would often reminisce about the delicious food laden with ghee, cream and sugar, and craved for them. Jalebis drowned in full cream milk, gulab jamuns eaten with rabri, and piping hot kachoris were something that he used to relish. However, what we loved the most was gajar ka halwa (carrot pudding), which his mother would cook for him in the cold winters of Multan.
And, he would earnestly try and recreate the magic of Multan in our tiny kitchen in Ulhasnagar. Halwa making would be an elaborate ritual in our house, which he played with a lot of panache. A kerosene stove and a huge kadhai (wok) would be laid out for him in the verandah of our house. He would sit on a chair near the stove wearing a shawl, croon with KL Saigal on the tape recorder, and cook the halwa overnight.
Since we did not have a food processor, it was my brother and my responsibility to grate the pink carrots. Not to forget, he would do it earnestly till our hands would be sore and our backs would hurt. However, the temptation of what we would get in the end kept us going.
He never took shortcuts and the halwa would simmer for hours in the mawa (dried milk used to prepare Indian sweets) and ghee (clarified butter). We would wake up with the smell of the halwa wafting in the house. He would then throw in a generous quantity of dried fruits and nuts to complete the ritual. And then as a reward he would take a spoon and feed the halwa to us. His beady cataract-ridden eyes would light up when he would hear us scream in delight!
Patience and love are two key ingredients to make this delicious sweet treat. Photo: Bhavna Kalra
Now he is gone, we no longer live in that house, and I cannot find those rosy pink carrots. But gajar ka halwa remains my most favourite dessert. The one I make is a busy woman's halwa, who doesn't have the patience and the resources to make the real McCoy. Finding fresh mawa or pink carrots in Perth is next to impossible, so I cook with the orange ones instead.
While I may not take the same amount of effort, I do put a lot of love. And sometimes when I take the first bite, I feel as though I am the little girl standing in the passages of my childhood... where my grandfather’s love would make the halwa taste out of this world!
Recipe for Gajar ka Halwa (serves 6)
Cooking time: 2 to 2.5 hours
1 kg carrots
1 tin condensed milk
½ cup ghee (If you don’t want to use ghee, please don’t make the halwa. The ghee is what makes the carrots taste great)
½ cup sugar
1 tbsp raisins
For the garnish
Edible silver leaf (optional)
1. Wash the carrots and grate them in a food processor.
2. Take a thick-bottomed pan and place the grated carrots in the pan on a low flame. You need to let all the moisture from the carrots out completely. Keep stirring them occasionally to ensure they don’t stick to the pan. You will notice the consistency of the carrots reduce considerably as the moisture evaporates. This process will take around 30 minutes.
3. Now add the sugar and again let it cook with the carrots for 15 minutes.
4. Add the ghee and cook for another 15 minutes.
5. Add the condensed milk and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
6. Now add the raisins, cook for another 10 - 15 minutes and turn the heat off.
7. Garnish with almonds, pistachios or edible silver leaves. The halwa can be served warm or cold (I love it warm) and will stay fresh in an air-tight container in the fridge for a week.
A Girl from Mumbai, Punjabi by birth and foodie by nature, Bhavna's life revolves around food. After finding some very questionable Indian food in Perth, Bhavna decided to start cooking and blogging about the food that she loves. Her blog is her extension for her love for her passion for food.