In Afghanistan Halwa is a mildly sweet pudding made with any number of ingredients from apples to carrots. My mother Jeja recently went to an Afghan funeral where she ate Halwa e Ard, a version of the dish that is traditionally served at such occasions. This recipe is lightly flavored with orange and saffron and is mostly made as an alm in memory of the dead. It is also handed out to the poor on Fridays and religious holidays in Afghanistan.
Saturday marked the beginning of the month of fasting, Ramazan. Muslims around the world refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and indulging in anything excessive from dawn to dusk. Fasting is meant to teach patience, spirituality and purification through self restraint.
Halwa e Ard is a favorite dish for Sahar, the meal before sunrise. It's filling, sweet and good source of energy to sustain you throughout the day.
There is a superstition that if one craves Halwa they should make it right away and satisfy their craving otherwise they will be attending a funeral in short order. Needless to say I associate Halwa with death, but that should not take away from this sweet delicacy.
Despite the fact that Halwa is a starchy dish we eat it, as we do most things, with Afghan flat bread or pita bread. In America Afghans fill half of a pita bread with Halwa, which makes it really easy to hand out at large gatherings.
Halwa e Ard
1/2 cup thinly sliced orange peel, around 2 small oranges
2 cups of sugar
2 cups boiling hot water
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups all-purpose white flour
1 1/2 tsp. saffron dissolved in 2 tbsp. hot water
1/2 cup whole, blanched unsalted pistachios
1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds (optional)
1 tbsp. ground cardamom
Immerse the orange peels in a small pot of water. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes, drain and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the sugar with the 2 cups of boiling hot water and stir until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.
In a large, preferably non-stick pot with a fitted lid, heat the oil on high heat. Once it's piping hot, add the flour and stir for 2 minutes. Bring to a boil and then remove the pot from the stove and put it in the sink.
Add half of the sugar mixture to the pot, being careful that it doesn't splatter on you. Stir quickly and return to the stove. Set over medium heat, and stir as you add the rest of the sugar mixture. Keep stirring for 2 minutes, the halwa will start to thicken. Reduce temperature to low and add the remaining ingredients. Stir for 3-4 minutes more, being sure that the bottom doesn’t burn. The saffron will turn the halwa into a beautiful yellow shade and by now the mixture will be thick.
Reduce the heat to low. Wrap a dish cloth around the lid and set it on top of the pot. The towel will absorb the steam as the Halwa continues to cook. Let it cook for another 15 minutes. Make sure that the heat is low so the bottom doesn't burn.
Serve with pieces of pita bread.
Serves 8-10 people
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