Amongst the magnificent pine trees, with the clouds floating towards me, breathing crisp and clear air with sounds of birds chirping, in a quaint town called Kasauli, nestled in one of the outer mountains of the Himalayas called the Shivalik range ,in Himachal Pradesh in Northern India, I set the Pin Rolling!
My father and sister spent their childhood amongst these ranges..at Sanawar School , and so I look back at my childhood years sitting in a cozy library in the Kasauli Club. And one of the most prominent figures in my life in my early years was my grandmother. My parents spent some time away from our Country so we were under her and my aunts care...It is with my grandmother in mind and heart that I set out to share my first dish with you.
Sooji ka Halwa or Semolina Pudding is perhaps the sweetest of memories I have of her. She filled the bowl of Halwa with a main ingredient called love. As a child, I wouldn’t be too fond of sweets but I had my favorites and Sooji Ka halwa would take the no.1 spot! .It was usually made during puja’s (prayer ceremonies) as an offering to the gods! But later since I developed a love for Halwa , she made it often, a way of showering all her love on her grandchildren and I would be allowed that extra bowl.
Later when I moved residence,whenever I would visit her in India, her first words to me were Halwa Banaoo? (Should I make Halwa for you?) knowing very well what my answer would be. Then she would follow it up with “Kal aa jana ..Halwa puri aur luchi khilaoongi “. ( “Come tomorrow , I will make you eat Halwa and fried breads”.)
Then I would wait for the time I would sit in front of the Halwa and take my first bite of heaven and she would wait for all the praises I would shower on her.
She for me was the Master of all Cuisines….and here I share with you a Bowl of Heaven and this is her recipe…
Suji Ka Halwa (Semolina Pudding)
½ cup refined flour (Maida)
½ cup Semolina (Suji)
¾ cup Sugar or brown sugar
2 large cooking spoons of Ghee
1/2 cup of water(room temperature)
1 teaspoon Green cardamom powder
4-5 strands of Saffron
Blanched Almonds- a handful
1 sheet silver foil (Vark )- I did not get this in Dubai but surely available in India.
1. Sift ½ cup flour and ½ cup semolina together. Keep it aside.
2. Make a sugar syrup with the ¾ of sugar with 1 string consistency.
3. Heat the Ghee in a kadai.
4. Add the flour and semolina mixture
5. Cook it till it gets roasted and the color changes to light brown. Be careful not to burn or over roast the mixture. You will start getting a nice roasting smell.
6. Add the sugar syrup in the halwa and mix very well taking it off the fire.
7. Mix the saffron and cardamom powder.
8. Decorate it with vark and slivers of blanched almonds.
Savour and Eat…with puris , luchi or just as it is…
This summer, when I visited India, I wanted to look for a Halwa that would give me a similar feeling that my grandmother used to make. So I set out to the oldest part of Delhi , Chandini Chowk which is still known for its traditional food places . It was early morning when my sister and I set out ,taking the metro ,since parking could be an issue there. We had booked a “Breakfast walk” with Delhi Food Walks(www.delhifoodwalks.com), and our gastric juices were already churning after the half hour ride as we were dreaming of the various delights waiting for us.
We met Anurag who was our foodie guide and then went on to visit our first stop Shyam Sweets in Chawri Bazaar and ordered a tray of Nagodi Halwa, Bedami poori , rassa alloo . For more information read the Rolling Pin on its Foodie travels page.
The Nagodi Halwa was pure divine.One bite and I was transported to my childhood and could hear my grandmothers voice saying “Halwa Banaoo”? (Should I make Halwa for you?) and that moment I knew she would always be there with me ….
After having eaten the delicious halwa in Chandini Chowk, I set out here in Dubai to find if the same taste of my childhood halwa can be found here. Dubai has a very large South Asian community so there are a large number of restaurants catering to the population. I tried to find places where Halwa poori was served for breakfast and its mostly served at Pakistani restaurants since it’s a typical breakfast eaten in Karachi!
So the place I chose to go was Ravi's in Bur Dubai ,which is a fairly popular restaurant serving local Pakistani food. I had seen their advertisement regarding Halwa poori being served for breakfast since a long time but I have never ordered Suji ka Halwa outside of my home as most Indians would not!
As I enquired about the halwa being available , I was informed by the very polite and courteous receptionist that if I eat it before 11 a.m its fresh! Was I lucky!!! I ordered a plate and sat down waiting for the moment..Usually these restaurants bring halwa which is soaking in ghee and have a horrible orange colour and I was hoping that I am not subjected to a halwa like that!
I sat for a few minutes before the breakfast that had been ordered for me was set down at the table …the halwa was the exact same colour and look that I was used to seeing at home!..that was step one accomplished..and I could sense relief but now for the taste.
As I took a bite , I could get the whiff of cardamom and ghee..it tasted delicious.
The suji had been roasted to perfection , which is a sign of that the cook indeed knew his abc’s of halwa making.
I went to meet him at his kitchen, Chef Tariq as I may call him ,since I have great respect for people who can make a great Halwa, was standing there smiling and waiting for me to share his expertise of the wonderful dish.
He told me his secret..that he puts a spoonful of gram flour in the roasted suji just before he adds the chashni(sugar and water) to make it “khasta”(flaky). I could sense a feeling of delight as he mentioned his secret! I complimented him on his accomplishment and said my goodbyes..
As I left Ravi’s I couldn’t begin to wonder how a simple dish like Suji ka Halwa could be savoured by two different countries and bring out the similar nostalgia regarding their homes for each.