A family favorite, this unique and delicious halwa is made with juicy red beets. It is an exceptional gluten-free Indian dessert that can also be made vegan-friendly.
Note (Mar 17th, 2017): This blog post was originally published in Sep 2013, which I have now updated with new pictures and a new recipe card. This is a family favorite and one of my favorite recipes on this blog. Hope you enjoy!
Halwa (or halva) is a fragrant and moreish Indian dessert usually made by slowly cooking down either flour, vegetables or fruit with sugar, ghee and milk/water to a smooth, creamy consistency. The ingredients are simple but the method of cooking determines the flavor and consistency of the finished product. Halwa is a staple of Indian diet especially during festivals. Of course, there are many variations of this sweet confection throughout Asia, Middle East and even Europe.
Gajar ka halwa or carrot halwa is the most famous one made with vegetables. But an equally delicious but lesser known Indian dessert is halwa made with red beets. In our family, this is the de-facto dessert of choice for both special occasions or even weeknights.
My mom makes the bestest beetroot halwa. In fact, it was one of the first desserts that I learned to make from her. This halwa is so flavorful and simple to make. In our family recipe, we use water to cook the beets in but you can also use milk for a creamier version. Traditionally, ghee is used to add richness to the dish, but you can swap it out for any neutral oil. If you are using water and oil instead of milk and ghee, this recipe is entirely vegan! It is a naturally gluten-free dessert too.
Recently, there has been a surge in the demand for recipes catering to special diets like gluten-free, vegan, etc. Many times, western desserts are difficult to be adapted to suit a GF and vegan diet without major substitutions and sacrifice in texture and taste. But the beauty of Indian desserts are that many of them are naturally GF and/or vegan. If not, they can be made so with a few simple substitutions and absolutely no sacrifice in taste.
Now, don’t worry if you hate beets, this dish might just convert you! We have served this dessert to several “beet haters” and they have always been pleasantly surprised, coming back for seconds or thirds.
This is a super simple recipe made with just a handful of pantry-staple ingredients. I love to make this halwa especially when I find fresh red beets at our local Farmer’s Market.
The halwa is topped with a few fried cashew nuts and golden raisins, typical to any South Indian dessert. You can add any chopped nuts as per your choice like almonds, pistachios, etc. This halwa is flavored with cardamom powder and a couple of cloves are added to the grated beets while cooking them. Cloves go exceptionally well with beetroot halwa and once it has infused its flavor, you can fish them out before serving. You can leave the cloves out of this recipe if you don’t have it. But if you do, then try adding it and see how it imparts a subtle but inviting fragrance and flavor to the beetroot halwa or chukandar ka halwa (chukandar=beets in Hindi).
- Ghee – 3 tbsp, divided (use a neutral oil for vegan version)
- Beetroot – 3 packed cups, grated
- Water - 1½ - 2 cups
- Cardamom – 2, crushed
- Cloves – 2 (optional)
- Sugar – ½ cup (or as needed, see Notes)
- Salt - a tiny pinch
- Cashew nuts 6-8
- Golden raisins - 10-12
- Heat 2 tbsp of ghee/oil in a large, wide, thick-bottomed pan and add the cardamom and cloves.
- Add the grated beets and start sautéing on medium heat, stirring constantly. You will notice the typical earthy aroma of the beets at first. Keep stirring and in few minutes, you will start noticing a sweeter smell. Keep sautéing over medium heat for at least 8-10 minutes. Do not skip this step as this will ensure that your halwa gets a nice, sweet smell and not the earthy aroma of raw beets.
- Now add enough water to cover the beets comfortably and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered till beets are well cooked, stirring once in a while. This may take a while depending on the type of beets. Keep sprinkling more water to cook the beets if needed.
- Once the beets are cooked, increase the heat so that any remaining liquid evaporates. (At this point, you can remove the cloves if needed.)
- Add sugar and a pinch of salt. Mix well and cook, stirring constantly. The sugar introduces more water to the mixture which needs to be reduced further.
- Once all the extra liquid is gone, the halwa will have deepened in color to a rich purplish hue. Stir in another teaspoon of ghee/oil.
- Halwa is done as soon as it turns glossy, thick and starts to leave the sides of the pan. Halwa will thicken slightly once cooled.
- Mix in chopped cashew nuts and golden raisins fried in 2 tsp of ghee/oil. If you are using other nuts like almonds or pistachios, mix them in without frying.
- Serve beetroot halwa hot, warm or chilled.
2. The amount of sugar typically depends on how sweet the beets already are.
Halwa is a hearty, comfort dish. For a modern twist, try warm halwa with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.
If you are making this on a day that you are expecting company, be sure to use a ton of beets as they drastically reduce once fully cooked. And like I said, everyone will want seconds!
Don’t forget to PIN & SAVE this recipe for later!
Do you like halwa? Have you tried beetroot halwa? Do try this easy, optionally vegan halwa recipe and let me know how it goes.
Go here for more Indian dessert recipes.
If you like this post, please follow this blog via Email to get post updates (find subscription box on the right side of this page, or scroll down in mobile version).
Stay connected on social media, PIN and SHARE this post.