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Tried and Tasted: If you love halwa, head to Old Delhi to sample some safed gajar ka halwa

Along with regular barfis and halwas, you get special sweets like aloe vera barfi, safed gajar ka halwa and habshi halwa at Shirin Bhavan, a well-known sweet shop in Old Delhi.

tried and tasted Updated: Dec 24, 2017 09:20 IST
Rahul Verma
Rahul Verma
Hindustan Times
Safed gajar ka halwa is a a delicious dish of white carrots cooked with milk, sugar and some khoya.
Safed gajar ka halwa is a a delicious dish of white carrots cooked with milk, sugar and some khoya.(HT Photo)

It’s the season to be jolly – and how else, but with food? All around me, I see cakes and pastries being adorned and sold, and my sweet tooth is raring to go. But while it enjoys a plum cake like any other molar, it’s been yearning for some good old desi sweets.

When it comes to desserts, I would rather have a plump and juicy gulab jamun, or some thick and creamy rabri, than a chocolate-filled tart. And when the temperature drops, I go in search of halwas – prepared with carrots, semolina or dal. And among halwas, too, there are some varieties that you don’t find easily in sweet shops any more. And those are the ones that I really look out for.

It was for two special kinds of halwa – one white and one dark – that I paid a visit to Shirin Bhavan in the Chitli Qabr area of the walled city the other day. The first kind is the safed gajar ki halwa, or halwa prepared with white carrots, and the other is habshi halwa, cooked with milk, whole wheat flour, ghee, sugar and some whole spices.

You get both halwas in winter. The first is a delicious dish of white carrots cooked with milk, sugar and some khoya. The second – so called because it turns dark when the milk is cooked over long hours – is a rich halwa that can warm the cockles of your heart. There are some nuts in it, and a predominant flavour of mace. Some people add the atta of sprouted wheat to it, for colour and texture.

Shirin Bhavan is a well-known sweet shop in Old Delhi. It sells various kinds of sweets – but along with the usual barfis, there are these special sweets that you won’t find easily elsewhere. There is, for instance, an aloe vera barfi – with the mild flavours of the super plant. And then there are these two kinds of halwas. And, of course, the all-time winter favourite – gajar ka halwa – is there as well.

The difference between the safed gajar halwa and the usual red one lies not just in the colour. The texture of the white halwa is different, for the red carrot is softer, so when grated and added to the milk and khoya, it does actually melt in the mouth.

Habshi halwa is thicker, almost fudge like, and a bit chewy. The first time I had this was long years ago, when my foodie friend from Old Delhi, Salimbhai, took to me a little shop in Ballimaran which was known for its habshi halwa. I had a spoonful, and realised there was a world outside the known realm of halwas.

The difference between the safed gajar halwa and the usual red one lies not just in the colour. The texture of the white halwa is different, for the red carrot is softer, so when grated and added to the milk and khoya, it does actually melt in the mouth.

Safed halwa is a more recent acquaintance. Another friend had got some over once some ten or fifteen years ago, and that was my introduction to a dessert that I had heard about, but not eaten. Even now, I find that not many have heard of – let alone eaten – this dish called safed gajar ki halwa.

I love both kinds, but I think my favourite is still the lal gajar halwa. When I was growing up in a village in Muzaffarnagar, we had a brilliant cook called Narayan Singh from Bihar who used to prepare this for us. And I think what really added to the taste – apart from freshly plucked carrots and the thick milk that came from our buffalos – was the desi ghee that went into it. All these decades later, I can still recall the taste.

RECIPE: Narayan Singh’s gajar ka halwa

Ingredients: 1 kg grated red carrots, 2 litres of full cream milk, 400g sugar, 300g desi ghee, chopped nuts

Method: Boil the milk and carrots together. When it thickens a bit, add the sugar. When almost dry, add the ghee and keep stirring till the colour turns a rich shade of brown. Add the chopped nuts and serve hot.

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