The one good thing about the approaching winter is that there are no dearth of celebrations, festival and holidays. I have vowed to make a dessert every evening from now until Diwali, the Indian festival of lights. Make that until Thanksgiving. Okay, maybe not everyday, but every other day then. Or at least twice a week. Gosh, we live only once, don’t we?!!
It is no secret that Indians love to snack and we count sweets as snacks as well. A hot cup of tea, piping hot snacks and good company are what makes a good life.
My favorite snack/sweet since childhood is a semolina pudding known as kesari. In some other parts of India, it may also be known as sheera or sooji ka halwa. The concept is pretty simple. Semolina is lightly roasted in ghee and cooked in hot water or milk to make a soft, but thick pudding. This is then sweetened, lightly or heavily depending on your tastes, more ghee is added till the pudding/kesari is glossy and smooth. This is then dotted with cashews and raisins fried in more ghee. It is one indulgent treat, but we were brought up to believe that the more decadent the kesari, the better for young bones and muscles.
My son seems to be more American in his choice of desserts. He is more of a cupcake and cookie kind of guy. He doesn’t seem to share the same love and adoration of Indian sweets like his father and I do. But sometimes, he does indulge.
I have heard the same complaint from many American friends about how Indian sweets are cloying-sweet. Well, to be fair, our portion sizes are small, so the richness doesn’t overwhelm you. I also think that it is simply a matter of taste. As I was pondering all these first-world dessert issues, I knew I had to come up with something that would cater to both taste-buds.
You can always make kesari or sooji halwa with just a little bit of sugar, but you will lose much of the signature melt-in-your-mouth texture. Somewhat pluckily, I decided it was time to dress up this humble pudding. I decided to try a sweet potato kesari or sweet potato and semolina halwa. I figured, either the sweet potato will add a nice smoothness to the halwa or the entire thing would turn to mush. But I was in a mood to experiment.
The first time, I laid eyes on orange sweet potatoes were here in the States. Indian sweet potatoes are like regular potatoes; only bigger, sweeter and more fibrous. The American variety actually lends itself perfectly to this dish, adding a natural orange-yellow color.
Judging by the photos and the fact that I’ve devoted an entire post to it, you must have gathered that it was quite a success! Combined with the semolina, the mashed sweet potatoes play a more-than-willing supporting role, adding a welcome smoothness and subtle flavor. I like to think it also makes the halwa healthier, obviously because it is a vegetable, and also because you need to use lesser sugar. I still added a somewhat healthy dose of ghee, but remember that it will be divided among many servings. Butter can be considered as a last-minute substitute, but try ghee, it will change the way you do desserts!
This is a great recipe to have on hand because it comes together very quickly and can be quite easily scaled up or down. But don’t worry about leftovers. I like to have a slightly warmed bowl with my morning cuppa.
Whip up this delicious halwa and wow your family and guests this Diwali. If you do Thanksgiving, this recipe gives a delicious twist on the more traditional sweet potato casserole. Ditch the marshmallows and give those sweet spuds an Indian twist. Trust me, I’ve successfully tested this on the Indian-American kiddo here!
- Sweet potato - 1 large, boiled and mashed to make roughly 1 cup
- Ghee - 5 tbsp, divided
- Cashew nuts - 12
- Golden raisins - 12
- Semolina - ¾ cup
- Water - 3 cups
- Cardamom powder - ¼ tsp
- Salt - a fat pinch
- Sugar - ½ cup plus 2 tbsp (or more as per sweetness desired)
- Boil, peel and mash the sweet potato to make at least 1 cup of mashed sweet potato. Set aside.
- Heat 1 tbsp ghee in a large, deep skillet. Fry the cashews and raisins till golden and plump. Remove and set aside.
- Heat another tablespoon of ghee. Add the semolina and roast on medium-low heat till semolina is toasted, but not browned. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
- Heat your 4th tablespoon of ghee and add the mashed sweet potatoes. Fry it on medium heat till fragrant, around 5 minutes, stirring all the while. This helps to develop the flavors for the halwa better.
- While you do this, start boiling the water in another saucepan.
- Add the roasted semolina to the sweet potato and mix well. Add the boiling hot water, salt and cardamom powder. Give it a stir, lower the heat and let it cook till the water is almost absorbed, around 3-4 minutes. There will be much sputtering and splattering, but that is to be expected, you are not doing it wrong!
- When the semolina is cooked and almost all water is absorbed, add sugar and stir well. It will introduce some more liquid into the halwa. Stir for a couple of minutes till all moisture is evaporated. Taste and adjust sweetness now.
- Add the last tablespoon of ghee and mix well. The halwa will be smooth and glossy now. Give it a few stirs, till you see the halwa leave the sides of the pan. Tip in the fried cashews and raisins.
- Serve halwa hot, warm or cold as per your preference. This keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days and can be gently re-heated before serving.
Try this delicious and different shakarkandi aur sooji ka halwa the next time you crave something sweet. You will definitely fall in love with it!
You can also pour the hot halwa into a lightly greased pan, so that when it cools down, it turns into a soft-set texture and you can cut out slices from it.
Look at that gorgeous golden color, all attained without even a drop of food coloring! I love how this natural-hued halwa turned out and hope you will too.
So, tell me, how are you preparing for he upcoming festive season? Did you come up with any new recipes. Do share.
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