Thursday, 19 March 2015

Carrot Halwa For Al

I think of Al whenever I see carrot halwa on the menu of an Indian restaurant (and, believe me, that's quite often).

Al did a lot of the cooking at iDEATH. His signature dish was ‘mess of carrots’. Al was definitely known for his carrots. When he and Pauline cooked together ‘they made a potato salad that somehow ended up having a lot of carrots in it.’ I think if Al made a dessert, then this would be the one. It would probably be sweetened with watermelon sugar.
In Watermelon Sugar
In the early 1970s when I first read Richard Brautigan’s ‘In Watermelon Sugar’ it seemed an extraordinary book and, as it happens, it still does today. The book was actually written in 1964 and published in 1968 and I can't imagine it being written in any other decade. The narrator (‘Just call me whatever is in your mind’) lives in a shack near iDEATH and tells us of his life in a place where many things are made of watermelon sugar and the sun shines a different colour every day. I'm wondering what the people who lived at iDEATH would make of iPhones and the iPlayer. I like to think that Mr Brautigan would be amused but sadly he left us in the 1980s. Still, he has his place in history. As he said ‘All of us have a place in history. Mine is clouds.’ I've certainly never forgotten Al and his carrots. 

There are many, many variations on carrot halwa and so I don't really worry that my version isn't particularly authentic. It's a little lighter than many - there's often a fair bit of ghee involved. I used some sultanas and dried sour mango in this halwa but other dried fruit such as papaya or pears will work well too. Many versions of halwa that I've eaten over the years have been sweeter than a picture of two fluffy kittens cuddling up to a puppy dog but I prefer to hold back a little on the sugar. I still think this version is pretty sweet, though, so you could reduce the sugar even more if you prefer. I find it's easiest to use a chef's pan with curved edges for this kind of dish to assist with the reduction of the milk but any suitably sized saucepan will do.
Carrot Halwa
This will serve 4 if you're reasonably delicate and restrained or 2 if you're really hungry after a hard day at the Watermelon Works.

250 g grated carrot
A small knob of butter
Seeds from 4 green cardamom pods
400 ml full fat milk
1 tbsp sultanas
1 tbsp dried sour mango, chopped into small pieces
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
75 g light brown soft sugar
To serve:
Crème fraîche or Greek yoghurt
A few roasted crushed nuts
A little finely grated lime zest

Crush the cardamom seeds in a pestle and mortar. Melt the butter over a medium heat and add the carrots and cardamom. Stir the carrots around for a minute or two then pour in the milk. Bring to the boil and turn down the heat until the the milk is simmering quite gently. Stir in the sultanas, the dried mango (or whatever dried fruit you're using) and the vanilla paste. Continue simmering, stirring regularly (that's important), until the milk has all but disappeared but the mixture is still moist. This process is likely to take around 40 minutes at a gentle simmer. Stir in the sugar and continue cooking and stirring for another 3 or 4 minutes. Allow to cool and chill until needed.

More often than not, in the restaurants I've been hanging out in, this is served warm and with ice cream (usually vanilla). There's nothing wrong with that, but I think room temperature is best with a few roasted and crushed pistachios or cashews, some Greek yoghurt or crème fraîche and a little finely grated lime zest. It's a very adaptable dessert, though, and some people even prefer it ice cold.

Carrot halwa is probably even nicer if eaten by the light of a lantern that burns watermelontrout oil.
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I'm submitting this little piece to the latest Novel Food event hosted by Simona Carini at briciole. I always look forward to discovering what turns up at Novel Food so I'm very happy to be part of it.
Novel Food