Halvas are amongst some of the most popular of Indian sweets. Saying that, Indians are not the only ones who make halvas, it is popular with the Greeks, and most parts of the Middle East. Each region has their own versions. The word ‘halva’ has Arabic roots and means ‘sweet’. Halvas are sweet, have a thick texture and are mostly translucent with any color depending on the food coloring used. It can be made of maida, wheat flour, corn flour, semolina and so on. They could be made solely from fruit pulps too. Some of the very popular ones amongst fruit halvas are jackfruit (known as ‘chakka varattiyathe’) and plantain (banana halva). Both use jaggery instead of sugar. These are especially popular around the Malabar region. A bakery called “Malabar Bakery” in Kannur makes some of the best banana halvas. My Achamma (Grand-mom) used to stock these along with cream colored Barley biscuits and ‘Tea cakes’ (plain sponge cake pieces, cut into about palm ‘s length, 2 inches in width and 1 inch in thickness, with a thin layer of baby pink colored icing along the length in the middle and wrapped like a toffee, in parchment paper) at home, at all times and they used to be a regular snack, amongst others, as tea time snacks and for any guests who appear every now and then, mostly some relative or the other.
Coming back to halvas, the varieties are endless. They can be flavored artificially or with real fruits. Most halvas are time consuming and a bit of hard work. The version I have made is not too sweet, has much less oil (ghee) compared to most halvas, and is one of the easiest ever to make. I have used Raspberry essence to flavor the halva, and pink food color to match the flavor, but you can experiment with different flavors and colors that compliment the flavor, as you like. For instance, you could use yellow color and mango essence or red color and rose essence. If you don’t prefer to use essence, then you could replace it with some fresh or dry fruits like pineapple, dates, kiwi, figs etc. Or you could use elachi (cardamom) for a very Indian touch.
Corn flour halva has a jelly like texture once it sets. This preparation requires very little ghee, hence making it a healthy halva. I have made it just sweet enough without being sickly and overbearing. I chose to serve it cold, cut it into cubes, but it can also be be served hot, if you prefer it that way. And instead of cutting it into cubes, you could leave it to set in tiny (greased) moulds, in any shape and empty onto plates.
Corn flour – 1/2 cup
Sugar – 1 1/2 cups
Water – 2 cups
Raspberry essence – 1/2 tsp
Pink food color – A pinch
Ghee – 1 tbsp
Cashews – 4-5, broken into pieces
Golden raisins – 6-8
Almonds – 3-4, slivered1. Mix corn flour, sugar, water and food color in a microwavable bowl. Mix well to dissolve any lumps.
2. Microwave this on high power for 3 minutes. Remove from the microwave and stir the mix well with a wire whisk (do not whisk). Microwave again for another 2-3 minutes, remove and stir again with the wire whisk. The mixture will start getting thicker after the second time. Repeat the process, till the mixture becomes a thick (halva) consistency, stirring well after each microwave session.
3. Meanwhile, in a small pan, heat the ghee and slightly brown the cashews. Next add the raisins and when they swell up turn off heat and add the almond slivers.
4. Add this to the halva, mix well. Move into greased moulds.
5. Keep aside for sometime till it sets. Cut into cubes, or if you have set it in moulds, turn it out onto a plate. As I said earlier, this can be served hot or cold, as per your choice. For a twist, I sometimes cut the halva into small cubes when it cools, and give them a light coat of icing sugar. Tastes better this way and also looks better, especially if you are giving it a bright color, like candy pink.