A cultural thing, perhaps

Generally - which means in general, so don't jump on me all at once and show me examples of where it has been done - Indian food blogs don't entice you with pictures of empty bowls that once had delectable food in them. Or with half eaten food, with teeth marks showing on the food or a sizeable chunk of the food missing.


Therefore my question: Is it a cultural thing? You know, kind of like
- how you don't offer jhoota food to dinner guests.
- how you quickly do away with dirty bowls but proffer bowls filled to the brim with goodies instead

I wonder if that held me back from participating in a Dirty Dishes Challenge last year. This year is different. So much of what parades as tradition and culture is old ladies saying whatever they want and getting away with it. Some of it made up on the fly just before they spout it, that I thought Pfffft. Here's more anti-culture for you:

I ate half of that before I took the picture and I don't regret it. My hips and thighs do, but I don't.

The only part I do regret is that I may have been cursed in return, as I have a new affliction: shakinghanditis. No matter what I do, my hands tremble when I point the camera in any direction and then when I press the shutter, my hand moves downwards to assist the camera with that action.

Result: blurry pics all the time.
Proof: all the pictures in this post. I have cleverly masked the effects so that they are not easily apparent.
Attitude: I really don't care, the gajar halwa was perfect!

Gajar Halwa


There are several regional variation of gajar (gah-juhr) or carrot halwa. The further North in India you are, you will get grated carrots that have been cooked in ghee and mawa. I am biased to the one stewed in milk forever, with very little ghee. I also prefer gajar halwa that is not cloyingly sweet.

Sue Darlow's recipe seemed like the perfect way to have the carrots cook on their own without much fuss. That it is pressure cooked and uses sweetened condensed milk appealed to that part of me that likes to cock a snoot at the purists. My first attempt over three years ago was a hit with my dinner guests. The leftovers were frozen and flown like a trophy to the East Coast where they were shared with more willing mouths who now swear that I am best halwai, in the world. We won't shatter their beliefs or my ego; instead, we'll just ride on the positive feelings that ensue. But the sad part is that I was not completely satisfied and I kept tweaking this recipe until I hit the jackpot - just right for our tastes.

  • 2.5 lbs fresh carrots, grated
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1.5 tbsp blackstrap molasses
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp ghee
  • 10-12 pods green cardamoms
  • crushed almonds (optional)
  • crushed pistachios (optional)


  1. Put grated carrots, condensed milk, molasses, and heavy cream directly into the pressure cooker and mix well.
  2. Cook under pressure on medium heat and after the first whistle, turn the heat down to low and cook for at least another half hour.
  3. Release the pressure slowly and safely. Be prepared to see some liquid in the pressure cooker when you open it, as it depends on how juicy your carrots are.
  4. Crush the cardamom seeds, discarding the outer pod and add to the mixture. Also, stir in ghee
  5. Heat on medium, stirring continuously until any excess liquid has evaporated.
  6. Transfer to a serving bowl and decorate with crushed almonds and pistachios
  7. Gajar halwa can be served warm or cold. We like the warm-cold thing and so I serve it warm with ice-cream!



Notes:
  • I was dismayed by what masqueraded as carrots in this country, especially since I moved here when India was a luscious deep red into the carrot season. Supermarket carrots - because I did not know any better at the time - tasted like wood, and carrots were near eliminated from our diet. Those 'baby' carrots are just as bad. Until I discovered fresh locally-grown carrots and later, organic carrots. These are sweet and very juicy. Very orange, but still. So spend that extra 50 cents per pound and get yourself some real juicy carrots.
  • Much as I espouse the benefits of stirring, I don't have the luxury of standing by the carrots, watching as they stew slowly in the milk since this has become a standard dessert when we have guests for dinner. I had to say that before the hoards of hecklers arrive to make smart comments on that, apart from expressing disbelief that this post actually has a recipe. So there!
  • The blackstrap molasses adds a deeper dimension to the gajar halwa: to the flavor and to the color. It also serves to add a sweet tone without the added moisture of a medium like condensed or even evaporated milk.
  • You could add more but remember that blackstrap molasses has a complex flavor and you might be better off adding some brown sugar instead, if you like it sweeter.

19 comments:

Bharti said...

Purists can say whatever they like. My mom's mithais are the best and she always uses half condensed milk and half sugar syrup. I love the sound of this gajar seera.I don't think it's too different from what my mom makes, apart from the molasses bit.

Leslie F. Miller said...

It looks outstanding--and seriously fattening. But it's dessert, so I guess it's how it should be.

As a rule, most food blogs don't show empty bowls, so I don't think it's an Indian thing.

And, again, Mmmmmmmm.

Nags said...

hehe i do empty bowls now and then and i dont think i have posted cupcakes without biting in first. cultural aspect never occurred to me u know.. but then again, i am 26. my generation is stuck in no man's land.

Pelicano said...

Well...hmmm. It's a very Manisha recipe- I can recognize one in a split-second now! :-D But it might be good; I guess I'll have to find out! Molasses, eh? I do like the stuff...and actually, that amount of ghee is what I like too, and you are sooooo right about the carrots! I look forward to the local, in-season ones every year! In fact, I have little babies that i planted from seed just coming up now- and very few of them will be orange.

Jyoti said...

I like the idea of pressure cooking the carrots first. Looks rich and delicious !

Hapi said...

hello... hapi blogging... have a nice day! just visiting here....

kristina said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anita said...

I don't think it is cultural...I personally find pictures of a finished meal rather 'happy'... just that I am rarely happy with the ones I take.

Using condensed milk is a bit like using khoya... just saying. I cook gajar halva in the pressure cooker all the time. Just prefer to not use the lid. :I

Note that I am not passing judgment on the merits of milk vs its condensed avatar vs. khoya, or meditative stirring vs. pressured cooking... Dammit, there's a recipe here!

Priya said...

hehehe, ok, since we have a recipe, and its a sweet I like, I am not complaining :D My mother uses the pressure cooker too for her recipe. And when in season she would use the deep red, plump gajar and not carrots. And since we were used to the red color halwa, when she did make them with carrots she would add a little grated beet :) Her recipe also has raisins which would soak up the juices and plump up. Can I have some now ? :(
...I think I am a little influenced by the not offering jhoota thing.
I stopped buying baby carrots after I found out that they were not so good full grown carrots, chopped and shaped to look that way!

bee said...

blackstrap molasses? has gotta be awesome.

as for tradition:

“Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay.” ~ J. Krishnamurti.

Cynthe said...

Repeating my FB comments here (hope you don't mind...)

I'm going to try this. Sounds YUM!

Didn't like gajar halwah as a kid in Pakistan. Odd, 'cause I like carrots a lot. And really like carrot cake though I certainly never had THAT in Pakistan!

Interesting you didn't like it either when you were a child. No accounting for kids' tastes that's for sure. Think it's totally delish now....with the right recipe, of course.

Also, appreciate your comments about carrot quality. I don't remember the yummy-sounding red 'Indian' carrots you describe.... but I wasn't doing the shopping or cooking in those days.

Srivalli said...

ehmm..maybe its not done cos the pictures are anyway shaky what with the high calorie thing and one wants to gobble it..:)..most of the time I find it hard to get the kids from not grabbing it from the plate...nice bowls manisha..looks so yummy!

TKW said...

Oh my God! Sweetie! I must have given you my Hideous Shaking Disease when we met on Saturday? I am so sorry, because it is total suckage.

The only benefit is that we can be miserable together, although that is little comfort. Do beef up the B-12 vitamins, though. xoxo

pedatha1 said...

Dear Manisha, laughed as I read your post...it was witty and the recipe is superb. Cheers!

Manisha said...

Bharti, shortcuts that result in yummy tasting food are the best! Try it with molasses - you won't look at gajar halwa the same way again. :-D

Leslie, my fave food blogger Tea does empty bowls all the time. She weaves them into her narrative and does them so very tastefully!

Nags, ahhhh! Now I feel really old!

Pel, I have to really search for the non-orange variety. Try it. Who knows, you might even like it. That it is good, I definitely know!

Jyoti, no firsts! Everything is pressure cooked together.

Hapi, have a hapi weekend!

Anita, you aren't passing any judgment on anything? Wow. That's a first!

Priya, aha! See! Sometimes I do spout reason even though Pel doesn't think so. The jhoota thing or the half-eaten thing deters most of us. Oh and the next post has no recipe. Just for you. :-D Raisins taste great in gajar halwa but I don't know how they hold up under pressure. Medha does not like raisins in gajar halwa so I usually abstain.

Bee 'tis awesome.

JK was a gem. All said and done, I am not completely anti-tradition or culture because there is a lot of heritage there. But when senseless BS is packaged as tradition, that is when I have a problem.


Cynthe, it's always great to have you comment here! I hope this is somewhere near the right recipe for you.

Srivalli, I've had these bowls for over over two decades now. And stored in the same way. But suddenly they became very 'slippery' and one met its end. At least that was the story I heard after the loud crash.

TKW, it's contagious? Dammit! If I hug you the next time, will I get your humor, too?

pedatha1, good to see you here!

CHAITRA said...

Gajar ka halwa looks tempting.Nice click!!
Drop in sometime!!

Kay said...

culture thing... well not so much I guess.

I remember a gulab jamoon ad from my pre-teen yrs.. quarter of the jamun missing...and it was more enticing than the full gulab jamun picture.

The halwa looks great!

Nirmala said...

Love the last but one pic and the shakinghanditis term. Me too suffering from the same these days. I love Gajar halwa and you are right on the half eaten/biten food photos. I too resist a lot to do that ;) You look lovely and naughty in Jen's blog !

Anita said...

The bowls look like the arcoroc ones...break resistant for sure. I droppped one from 5 feet and it just twirled around! I was so glad...