Sunday, 31 March 2013

my dadi and her besan ka halva

besan ka halva
my dadi (paternal grandmother) is a formidable woman. as a child, her appetite for grisly stories intended to inculcate fearlessness in her grandchildren gave me nightmares. they were peppered with kidnappings and robberies by wadera’s and daku’s (vernacular for tribal chieftains and robbers). it did not help that my vivid imagination was easily supplemented by figures in dramas like kashkol and dasht. the latter was about the story of two lovers caught between personal enmities of warring tribes in balochistan. it was replete with burly men with butterfly moustaches bearing arms. the former was about a beggar cartel whose network was made up of kidnapped children. she was keen on us watching these with her. in addition she had grown up in an age when religion was synonymous with fearing god. and so i grew up hearing much about sinning, the afterlife and hell.

but she was equally capable of immense affection and this shone through her food. some of my best memories of her are from watching her cook. she would make elaborate savoury dishes like kerelas; bitttergourd stuffed with minced meat or lentils stitched along the seams or karri; a dish of yoghurt thickened with gram flour finished with pakoras and tarka and parathas stuffed with potatoes or beef mince. when we were little she would make by brother and i sweet parathas shaped like birds. we used to call these ‘chirri roti’. my personal favourite was ‘churi’. popular with most children it featured hot roti smothered in butter and ‘shakar’ (unrefined cane sugar) that between the palms so that it ended up in small twisted pieces hence the word ‘churi’. 

age has made my dadi frail. now on the cusp of her tenth decade, she has less physical strength but still retains streaks of independence. on my yearly visits to pakistan i find myself asking her for her recipes but they have little coherence. this is partly because she has not cooked for years and also because age has taken a toll on her ability to speak for long. the culture of oral tradition and andaaza (cooking by estimate) means that most of her recipes are consigned to her memory. so i supplement her instructions with those of her daughters and my mama who picked up her recipes by watching her cook. however, their cooking offers little more in precision as it is also based on pinches, handfuls and cups. one also needs to have a sense of textures, flavours and colours essential to cooking. this besan ka halva (chickpea flour halva) is constructed from memory and a brief demonstration by my choti phoopo (my baba’s younger sister). when i was little my dadi would whip up a batch of it when something sweet was needed. 

besan ka halva in the making
it starts with cardamom and gram flour being toasted in a pool of butter. the butter and heat combine to roast and deepen the shades of the gram flour and bring out the floral aroma of the cardamom. my halva is fudge like. it is a departure from my phoopo’s version that sweats butter and is a little harder. my dadi’s halva would vary in texture. i suspect that the variance was attributed to cooking by estimate especially since she would use varying sizes of cups and mugs for measure. sometimes her halva was brittle and at others fudge like. it always tasted good. i have tried this recipe several times and am confident that it works well. 

{besan ka halva} 

two hundred and fifty grams unsalted butter 
ten green cardamom pods 
one hundred and forty grams gram flour 
two hundred and fifteen grams golden sugar 
three eggs 
seventy-five grams crushed skinned almonds 

start by placing the block of butter in a heavy bottomed pan on low to medium heat. whilst it melts bruise the cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar until they release their seeds. discard the shells and remove any fluff from the seeds. add these to the butter. 

when the butter has melted and the cardamom has released its fragrance add the gram flour. cook the gram flour until it looses its rawness and smells richly toasted. stir frequently. this should take around ten to twelve minutes. do not be tempted to hurry this along. the gram flour will also deepen in colour. 

add the sugar, keeping the heat on low to medium. stir the sugar into the mixture until it melts. the contents of the pan will be livelier at this stage with the occasional blip and bubbles from the heat. stir constantly as it will stick to the bottom of the pan if you do not. this process will take around ten to fifteen minutes. 

reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and whisk the three eggs together. at this point you will have to work very quickly. pour the whisked eggs gradually into the pan beating furiously. if you do not mix it quickly the eggs will scramble and leave streaks in the halva. 

besan ka halva for asma
lastly add the crushed almonds and stir into the halva thoroughly. you want them to be evenly distributed. you could use any combination of nuts. i find pistachio or cashews are a lovely addition. 

spoon the halva into a square pan. spread it evenly by pressing it down with the back of a wooden spoon and leave to cool. once it is cool cut it into squares or diamonds. i gifted part of both batches to o's boss and the very talented asma khan who runs the supperclub darjeeling express. if you plan to do as i did then tuck the squares of halva into a pretty bag and finish with a ribbon.


  1. Hi there..was awaiting this recipe ever since I saw the pic that Asma question can I not add eggs to make it vegan??
    Thank you & love your blog :)

    1. Hi Pria. I'm afraid I am not a halva expert so not sure how it would work for this consistency. If you don't use eggs you will have to use some kind of a binder perhaps water. It will make besan ka halva but the kind that you eat with a spoon ( so more pudding like). I think Indian Simmer has a recipe for an eggless halva.

      I'd be curious as to how it will turn out. You know experimenting is the best way to learn and create.


  2. this is such a lovely post m. bless your dadi.
    and I really hope to be trying this soon! I know some people just hate the texture of asian sweets/desserts n general, but I love them. this looks ace.