Desi gajar Ka Halwa - Carrot halwa - Grated carrots simmered in milk and concentrated to get a rich and creamy dessert. Sweetened with sugar and topped with some cashews and pistachios.
Desi Gajar | Delhi Carrots | Winter carrots
Carrots are indigenous to Afghanistan since 5000 years ago. The original variety of carrots were purple in colour. Then came the red, yellow, black and few other colours and finally, the most common orange coloured variety was cultivated. It is believed that in the 17th century, Dutch scientists cultivated an orange variety due to some experiments. Out of all the varieties, the red ones are crisper, juicier and saccharine. These red varieties, commonly known as "desi gajar" (carrots) are typical for India./
Desi gajar also popularly known as the Delhi carrot marks the onset of winter in India. The markets are piled up with these long and slender ruby-red carrots that are available only during this season. Before the arrival of the common orange carrots, these red carrots were used in India. Now, this is a seasonal delight that we get to enjoy every winter and due to its overly sweet nature is apt for making desserts.
Helva | halwa
Even though every nation from the Balkans to India fight for Halva's nativity, it seems more likely that it originated in Turkey. In Turkish etymology, Helva means a sweet which is usually dense and heavy. A confectionary made with flour, butter, and sugar. It is one of the oldest deserts in Turkey and it can be traced back to the 13th century where it has been mentioned in few honorary works. It came to India with the arrival of Mughals in the 16th century.
Gajrela or Gajar ka halwa
Like most of the north Indian dishes, this is also associated with the Mughals. It is said that the Punjabis introduced this to the Mughal courts and it instantly became popular with everyone. As I mentioned in the beginning, this is a pretty simple recipe. Carrots are simmered in milk and cooked until all the liquid is evaporated and the mixture concentrates and thickens. Then top them with nuts and enjoy them warm. This rich and creamy dessert is Gajar halwa (Gajrela).
The traditional recipe calls for carrots, milk, and sugar. But the recipe has evolved so much. Nowadays Khoya has become an essential addition to making the carrot halwa. Also, condensed milk (milkmaid), cream and milk powder are also added to the recipe nowadays.
"The worst and commonest is the jhat-pat housewife's pressure-cooked variety" quotes Vasundara Chauhan, in her column in The Hindu. The pithy and funny article aptly explains how a halwa should be made. No shortcuts, it is time-consuming and it has to be rich and intense! Having said that, it does not mean that this dish is dumped with sugar or ghee. Another article by Vikram Doctor on his blog for the economic times, explains how this gajar ka halwa has been overused with loads of addition of ghee and sugar that totally morphs the actual flavour of the carrots. These two articles beautifully explain that the star ingredient of gajar halwa is carrots. Nothing more and nothing less. The other ingredients are added only to elevate the flavour of the carrots. Simmering of fresh and in season carrots can work wonders. All you need to give them is the required time to turn this into a sinfully delicious dessert.
For a change, serve this simple Indian dessert for the holidays. Cookies and cakes will always be there on the table but this might add the extra oomph factor to your holiday dinner parties.
Halwa made from the long reddish winter carrots that are available abundantly in Delhi. This is a seasonal delight; mixed with sugar, milk and lavishly sprinkled with nuts.
- 2 tablespoon ghee | Indian clarified butter divided
- ½ tablespoon coarsely crushed cashews
- 4 cups tightly packed grated carrots About ½ Kg
- 4 cups milk
- ½ tablespoon whole pistachios
- ½ teaspoon cardamom powder
- ¾ cup sugar (adjust as per your taste)
- ¼ cup grated khova (mawa), (optional)
- 1 teaspoon each of slivered pistachios and almonds
- A pinch of nutmeg (grated or powderd), (optional)
- A pinch of saffron (optional)
- a pinch of salt (optional)
Heat a tablespoon ghee in a heavy bottomed pan / Kadai. Add the cashews and fry until golden brown. Remove them and keep aside on a blotter paper.
In the same pan, add another tablespoon more ghee and saute the grated carrot for a minute.
Then add the milk and the whole pistachios. Also add saffron strands, if you are using it. Cook until the milk evaporates and the carrots are softened and cooked completely. Keep stirring it to avoid the carrots from sticking to the bottom and burning. (Refer notes 1)
Once the liquid evaporates completely (and the carrots are completely cooked), add the sugar, khova (if using) and stir until it melts. Taste and adjust the amount of sugar, if needed. Keep stirring until the cooked carrot mixture thickens.
- Add the remaining ghee, cardamom powder, roasted cashews and keep stirring until the carrot mixture thickens and comes off the pan as one mass.
Garnish with slivered pistachios and almonds before serving.
This is best served warm. So heat it up lightly before serving or serve them immediately.
- Make sure the liquid does not evaporate before the carrots are completely cooked. Add extra milk or water if required.
- Condensed milk, khova, mawa or milk powder can also be added to enhance the taste. Make sure you don't add too much of this as it might overpower the flavour of the carrots. If you are using any of the mentioned ingredients, reduce the quantity of milk accordingly.
- Do not keep it on the stove for a long time. The sugar will form crystals and it will harden the halwa. Turn off the flame when the carrot mixture comes together as one mass.
- Adjust the amount of sugar according to your taste preference and the sweetness of the carrots.
- If absolutely necessary, you can also use the pressure cooker to make it quick. Make sure the grated carrot along with liquid fills only half the capacity of your cooker. Do not fill it more than half, since the milk will overflow and splash all over. If you don't have a big cooker, reduce the amount of milk and instead substitute with water.