Saturday, March 19, 2011

One of the many (yummy) ways Grandma is never forgotten...

      I love foods that are able to take you back. Like the scene in Ratatouille, when the harsh and hard-to-impress food critic, Ego, took a bite of Remy's ratatouille and it automatically took him back to his childhood years. I love it when that happens! Taste and smell (as well as sound) have those remarkable powers (I personally believe they're magical...) to transport you to another place and time and trigger a specific memory and feeling.

With my beloved and missed grandparents.
   Well, the dessert I'm showcasing today does exactly that. Every time the house fills up with the aroma it creates when being cooked and every time a take a bite into it's deliciousness, it takes me back to when I was lower case g and my beloved grandmother would make this dessert for our family. An overwhelming amount of dear memories come flooding back with every bite (is that why I end up eating the whole damn thing??) and I truly take a trip down memory lane.

   I remember my grandmother being a fantastic cook but I guess word around the olive tree was that her biggest reputation was in her mad dessert making skillz. Sadly, by the time I was old enough to remember, she had gotten older and didn't have the energy to prepare the baklavas, almonds pies and other sweet miracles she was so famous for. This dessert, however, she did make because it didn't require a lot of ingredients and wasn't as labor intensive. It's one of my favorite sweets not only cause of it's fantastic flavor but for the sentimental value it holds. This version is also very traditional and popular in good 'ol Greece.

   So what's this fantastically awesome, cavity-friendly sweet I'm talking about?? Well, it's called Halvas Politikos....*crickets*. "You mean it's not BAKLAVA!?". Calm down people...there's more to the wonderful world of Greek desserts than the damn baklava! What the world knows of Greek desserts is indeed mostly the baklavas, the kadaifis, the rice puddings and the one no one seems to know how to pronounce (galaktoboureko...geez it's not that hard people!). It's almost as if Greek halva has been kept a secret or some sort of guilty pleasure which I kind of like cause it's always nice to show what other sweet things us Greeks are made of.

     Now, I must note that Halva isn't just a "Greek thing". Halva is also found in many other countries apart from Greece and each country has their own variation of how to make it. I swear, you can teach a whole collage course on this confection. If you don't believe me, check out Halva 101.  As you'll read in this provided link, there are two different bases Halva can be made out of: flour and nut-butter. The "Greek way" is made from coarse semolina flour. There's a few variations of how to make this even within Greece but I make the simplest one, the way Grandma used to make. Easy and only needs 4 ingredients (ok 6 but 2 are optional).

   Now, it's kind of hard to explain how exactly this dessert tastes. It tastes nutty, toasty, sweet (obviously), and crunchy all at once. It's just one of those things you have to personally taste and experience to truly understand it. Also, it is a dessert but do not fear. You definitely don't need to be a pastry Chef to pull this off. It's pretty much whirling a bunch of stuff in a pot. :-)

What great stuff is made of.
  So! Without further ado...

Halvas Politikos

What you'll need:
3/4 cup olive oil
2 cups coarse semolina flour
3 cups sugar
4 cups water
almond slivers, optional but highly recommended
ground cinnamon, optional but also highly recommended

 A few side notes:

- It's commonly said that this dessert is easy to make like 1,2,3,4 because that's the ratio for the ingredients listed above
(respectively). Personally, I feel like 1 cup oil for 2 cups semolina makes the final product a tad too oily, which in turn makes it kinda heavy on the stomach. So, I personally add 1/4 cup less.

-  Do use olive oil! Anything else and it just won't taste the same. 

- You can use either toasted or un-toasted almonds. If you use toasted one, add them to the semolina near the end, if uncooked, add them in the beginning and they will toast as the semolina does.

"Blackbird singing in the dead of night..."

1. Get a mold you wish to put the halva in and lube it up with a pastry brush. It is very forgivable and can shape into whatever you put it in.

2. Get a pot and heat the water and sugar in it. Once it comes to a boil, let it simmer for about 10 minutes (You're not looking for a syrup consistency). Turn the heat off and set it aside once time is up.

3. In the mean time, take a large surface area pot and heat the olive oil in it. Once oil has been heated, add the semolina and almonds (if un-toasted) to the pot and stir. Keep your heat to a medium and make sure to constantly stir, turning the heat to low if you see the semolina getting too much color, too fast. Semolina can burn very quickly so leaving the pot unattended for any amount of time will lead to some not so desired results. Keep stirring until the semolina has changed into a golden brown color. This take about 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Once your semolina is nice and golden, slowly add the sugar water to it. When I say slowly, I really do mean slowly.  You will get a big bubbling mess when you first add the liquid so be careful while doing so. It'll seem at first as if the liquid is way too much for the amount of semolina in the pot but do not worry, it will soak it all up!

5. Once your sugar water is added, continue to stir for another 5 minutes or so. The halva will be ready when it "un-sticks" from the walls of the pot and takes the shape of the pot as it does.

7. Take your mold and pack the halva on in there. Make sure you press it down.  

8 Once you've got your halva in it's last resting place, set it aside and let it cool off a little. Once it's cool, turn your mold upside down with a plate under it to release the halva. Sprinkle a generous amount of ground cinnamon around the halva, if desired.

  You're done! The great thing about this desserts is that it holds well over the course of a few days (if it lasts that long) and even longer if it's kept in the fridge ( I'm more partial to warm or room temp. halva). I really encourage people to try this. I'd love to hear opinions, impressions and thoughts on it.

   Every time I make this, I think of my Grandma. I absolutely love the whole process (especially the eating part!) cause it makes me feel connected with her again.  It's like grandma died and came back as this dessert or something...

Καλή Όρεξη!!!

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