Carrot halwa, also known as gajar ka halwa, is an unusual Indian dessert. It’s made with grated carrots, whole milk, dried fruit, and nuts, and it has a delicious light fudgey texture. Traditionally served at Indian festivals and in temples, this classic dessert is a favorite in Indian households during Diwali, the festival of lights, which is this week!
Diwali — the festival of lights — is one of the best-known Indian festivals. One of the traditional legends behind the festival involves the Hindu God, Rama, who was exiled with his wife and brother by his father’s jealous wife. During his exile, his wife, Sita, was kidnapped by the king Ravana, which led to an epic battle to free her. After Rama’s fourteen years of exile were up, he returned to Ayodhya, his hometown, where people lined the streets with oil lamps to light his way and celebrate his return. There are also other legends that swirl around Diwali, with each region of India telling its own story.
Diwali is a Hindu festival, but Indians of all religions celebrate the day. Small diyas (little oil lamps) adorn the door steps in the country, and every home is decorated with colorful flowers and sparkling lights. Fireworks burst throughout the night and people in their finest clothes celebrate with family and friends — and throng the streets! People give gifts of clothes and trinkets to family and friends, and take all sorts of sweets to each other’s homes, like gulab jamun (deep-fried dough soaked in sugar syrup), rasagulla (paneer balls in sugar syrup), laddoos (sweet dough rounds), and of course, halwa.
Diwali is one of those festivals that transcends religion and brings people together. It celebrates the triumph of good over evil and is a great way of celebrating the diversity of the Indian subcontinent and its diaspora.
1 pound carrots, peeled
2 tablespoons ghee or neutral cooking oil
8 green cardamom pods, seeds only, crushed
3 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup raisins
Pinch saffron threads
1/4 cup unsalted pistachio nuts, chopped
Grate the carrots coarsely using a cheese grater. Heat the ghee or oil in a heavy, high-sided skillet or saucepan. Add the crushed cardamom seeds and stir for about 30 seconds, until they are fragrant. Add the grated carrots to the pan and fry for about 3 minutes.
Add the milk and bring it up to the boil. Boil, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Then turn the heat down to a low and simmer the halwa, uncovered, for about 1 hour. Stir every so often to stop the milk forming a film or scorching on the bottom. The milk should have reduced by over a third by the end of the hour.
Add the sugar, raisins, and saffron to the pan and stir. Turn the heat up to medium and cook, stirring frequently, for until the halwa is thick and glossy, 15 to 20 minutes.
You can serve the halwa warm or cold. If serving warm, scoop into bowl, sprinkle pistachios over top and serve. If serving cold, press the halwa mixture into small ramekins. When ready to serve, overturn on to plates, sprinkle over the pistachios and serve.