Come winter, and the craving to dig into a bowl of homemade Gajar ka Halwa takes over. Although I have a sweet tooth, I am very selective when it comes to Indian desserts. I loathe the ones with excessive ghee and sugar and varakh, and instead pick those with subtle flavours. From the Indian dessert repertoire, an all-time favourite is Gajar ka Halwa. In my growing up years, my mother would laboriously make the dessert for us be in summer or winter since we loved it so much. She was never hell-bent on using red carrots. In fact, our local market in the small town of Dibrugarh in Assam hardly saw red carrots. So we enjoyed it whenever the craving kicked in.
As I left home and moved to Bangalore, I almost forgot about the sweet treat until I packed my bags again and shifted base to Mumbai. During one of our office lunch feasts in BBC Good Food, a Punjabi colleague – Aakriti Anand – had treated us to Sarson ka Saag with Makki ki Roti and Gajar ka Halwa, made lovingly by her mother. It sparked those buried memories as I indulged in three helpings of the halwa or probably more.
The year after when I was visiting my sister, her mother-in-law had made me Gajar ka Halwa, knowing my fondness for it. But her version was unusual with the addition of cumin seeds, which she said she added to bring in a savoury bite. It didn’t work well for me.
The following winter as I packed again to finally settle in Delhi, Aashna Ahuja, my new colleague at NDTV, brought us her family version of Gajar ka Halwa prepared by her nani. I don’t remember how many servings I gobbled up, it was a delicious mix of dry fruits and milk soaked carrots, minus any khoya. It was light and immensely satisfying. Ahuja household’s food, as we started referring to all her treats, never disappointed us with its mastery in flavours.
This year my Punjabi mother-in-law, who claims she hates cooking yet never fails to bowl me over with her delightfully flavourful dishes, packed me an entire bowl of season’s Gajar ka Halwa. She had personally gone to the market to handpick the red carrots to ensure they were young and tender. Then with all the love that mothers put into cooking food for their children, she had made the comforting halwa for us. As I spoon into my bowlful of halwa, I can’t help but wish for our restaurants to realise that a dish needs no excessive accessories when you can bring out its true flavours by using sensible measures of ingredients.
Here’s my mother-in-law’s recipe for Gajar ka Halwa –
1 kilo red carrots, peeled and grated
1 ½ litre milk
4-5 green cardamoms
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup soaked almonds, chopped
¼ cup soaked raisins
1 tablespoon ghee
- In a heavy bottomed pan, cook milk, carrots and cardamoms over a medium flame, stirring occasionally.
- Once the milk reduces to half, add the sugar and continue cooking till it reduces completely.
- Discard the cardamoms, and add in the almonds and raisins, and ghee. Stir well and serve warm.