the 21st of October, 2009. It...didn't turn out. This time I went with a simple recipe, and in hindsight, I think there were one or two things I did to make it turn out better this time around.
Last time, Maria asked me if I had tried the "1-2-3-4" recipe, and I don't think that I had. I did some research and the recipe she had posted was very similar to the one in Vefa's Kitchen (seen here on my blue ottoman), which had more details on the actual cooking. I think the problem was that the last time, I had used cold syrup and hot semolina, like I was adding syrup to a cake - it made sense to me, and might well have been in the recipe. But these recipes did not specify that the syrup be cold, and I think that makes all the difference. Plus, I may well have not browned the semolina enough, which would have meant that it wouldn't absorb as much syrup, causing it to have the consistency of applesauce - not particularly appealing!
1 cup of olive oil or melted butter
2 cups of semolina
3 cups of sugar (Vefa's Kitchen specifies "fine/caster sugar", but I don't think that's necessary)
4 cups of water
1 cinnamon stick
a handful of pine nuts or chopped almonds
lemon/orange peel and/or juice
ground cinnamon for sprinkling
Equipment: two large saucepans, two wooden spoons, a metal ladle, a clean towel, a pan or molds for the finished dish.
In one pot, combine four cups (=one litre) of water with three cups of sugar, the cinnamon stick, cloves, and the citrus peel of your choice, plus a bit of juice. I don't tend to keep fresh citrus in the house, so I used a dash of bottled lemon juice. Stir and heat at medium heat.
At the same time, in the other pot, combine the cup of olive oil and two cups of semolina, stirring the mixture constantly over medium heat as well. When the mixture starts to change colour (if you are using a good olive oil, it will be greenish to start; if not, the yellow colour will simply deepen), add the pine nuts or almonds, and continue to stir until the mixture is golden brown. Be vigilant about stirring it, or it will burn.
By the time the semolina is ready, the sugar should be dissolved into the water, forming a light syrup. Remove the spices and peek with a slotted spoon, and add a ladleful at a time to the semolina. "Vefa's Kitchen" seems to imply it should be the semolina which goes into the syrup, but I don't think that makes much sense - you want the semolina to absorb a huge amount of liquid, so adding the syrup bit by bit to the semolina makes more sense. Add the syrup with one hand, stir vigorously with the other, and keep going till there's nothing left. Your arm will get tired (the mixture gets quite heavy), but it will be worth it in the end. Keep the burners under both pots on while you do this, I think the continued influence of the heat is an important element.
When all of the syrup has been absorbed by the semolina, cover the pot with a clean dish towel, put the lid on top of that, and leave it to cool for 10 minutes or so. Come back and spoon it into whatever container you want - you can put it into molds or bowls, then invert and decorate with some powdered cinnamon and some pine nuts, as I've done, or you can put it in a pan and scoop portions out.
Delicious hot or cold, halvas should have a rich, silky-yet-gritty texture, sweet but also citrusy, enhanced by the warm, familiar taste of cinnamon and cloves. The pine nuts reveal themselves like buried treasure, nutty nuggets of glistening amber. Pure joy, pure comfort food. Please do give this recipe a try, and tell me how you liked it!
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