This traditional Greek, toasted, family semolina dessert evokes for some their mother’s or grandmothers’ scent. Semolina halva with orange is given added flavour with walnuts. From the very first bite, the orange flavour boldly stimulates both nose and palate, and its dark caramel colour suggests juicy, honeyed promises.
Learning about halva…
For Greeks the name of this pudding is mainly associated with Lent and fasting. However, its roots lie most likely in Arabia, as حلوى ḥalwá, is the Arabic word meaning ‘sweet’. Halva meanders from the Balkans and the Mediterranean to the Middle East, presenting itself in various forms and flavours. Well-known types include the semolina halva, the halva made with sesame (i.e. tahini), while a special kind of halva made in Farsala (a small town in central Greece) has a soapy texture, and is usually found at the flea markets of religious festivals. A less-known type is the “keten” halva that comes from Turkish cuisine, its texture resembling that of cotton—rather like raw kataifi or cotton candy.
In Greek cuisine, even though semolina halva is more traditional, during the days of fasting, the majority of Greeks prefer the sesame halva, mainly because of convenience, as it is widely marketed. Once again we repeat that there is no better flavour than that of home-made halva, and here we are challenged to disprove the myth that semolina halva is difficult, or even dangerous to make.
…debunking the myths
When listening to my mother recite the recipe with her clearly classic exaggerations as to how to give especial attention to the hot oil, I thought I was going to be dealing with a chemical substance that, if I wasn’t paying attention, was going to send me from the kitchen to the hospital with third degree burns. The fear that this recipe would dramatically change my life due to a skin disfiguration seized me. Pure exaggeration!
I therefore conclude that all myths concerning the difficulties of cooking from “official” housewives are simply created to enable them to keep their titles, their uniqueness and all the credit for themselves. Obviously, if you come into close contact with the syrup and the hot semolina, you will burn, but there is no reason for this, as such contact can be easily avoided.
Therefore, those who cook semolina halva for the first time, despite whatever they have heard, should not be intimidated.
Tips to avoid risking your life and damaging your alabaster complexion are two:
- A large, wide saucepan to cook semolina – allowing plenty of space,
- A long wooden spoon, allowing for stirring from high above and at a safe distance.
Mission semolina halva accomplished successfully and with great pride.
Semolina halva with orange and walnuts
Preparation: 25-30 minutes (2-3 minutes to heat oil plus 10 minutes to brown semolina while at the same time preparing the syrup, plus another 10 minutes to stir and combine the two mixtures and thicken the halva. Use a large wide saucepan for semolina and a long wooden spoon or spatula for stirring. Easy (when prepared with caution) and quick recipe.
Ingredients (for a round cake tin with hole, 21-23 cm diameter)
for the halva
2½ cup coarse semolina
1 cup olive oil
1 cup walnuts, coarsely ground (not powered)
for the syrup
2 cups sugar
4 cups water
½ cup clear honey
1-2 oranges, zest only
ground cinnamon, for serving
To prepare the halva: Heat the oil in a large wide saucepan over medium heat (2-3 minutes), add the semolina and start stirring constantly with a long wooden spoon to avoid sticking at the bottom of the pan, until it starts turn lightly darker/golden brown (about 8-10 minutes, depending on saucepan and heat). Add the walnuts and stir. Remove from the heat.
Be careful to keep the semolina away from the heat, especially if the syrup is not ready yet, as even away from the stove, semolina continues to cook, hence turning it brown.
Prepare the syrup: Put the water, sugar, honey and orange zest in a large saucepan over medium heat. Boil for 5-7 minutes, as you prepare semolina.
Note: If you do not like orange, you can add lemon peel instead to add flavour. Discard lemon peel at the end (orange zest remains in the syrup).
When syrup is ready, remove from heat. Use a ladle to pour carefully syrup over semolina, one or two ladles at a time, because the hot syrup will splash up.
Return semolina back to the heat stirring constantly and add the syrup (after the first 4-5 ladles you can pour all the syrup at once) until the mixture thickens (about 10 minutes) and halva is ready.
Note: Semolina and syrup have to blend well while still hot, so keep both hot in case one of them is ready before the other.
Spoon the mixture into a cake mold of your choice, pressing lightly to even the surface. If you have any mixture left spoon it in individual serving dishes. Leave to cool completely.
To serve: When completely cool, turn semolina halva out onto a serving plate and sprinkle with cinnamon and coarsely ground walnuts.