Those of you reading Greek bloggers must be familiar with “Kathari Deftera” or Ash Monday by now. It is the Monday that marks the beginning of lent and a big Greek bank holiday and it was yesterday. When I was a kid it was probably the best day after New Years morning (in Greece this is when we traditionally get the presents under the tree), because we would fly a kite. Now that I don’t fly a kite any more I love it because of all the lovely food: no dairy or meat is permitted, just veggies and anything living without blood (kalamari, octopus, shrimp, lobster, etc., but no fish). The most famous dish of the day of course is taramosalata which I made for the family table following my mothers recipe. We also had giant beans, an aubergine salad, octopus, and loads of “lagana” the traditional bread of the day. The meal was concluded with two types of halva: tahini halva, which you buy from the grocers and semolina halva that you can make yourself.
If you have never tried semolina halva you will be surprised by the deliciousness such humble ingredients can bring. The taste comes from the toasted semolina flour and the spices that you will use (traditionally cinnamon). Below I give you my take on this Greek classic and you should try it especially if you are looking for a dairy (and cholesterol free) dessert.
Greek Semolina Halva
- 1 cup oil (olive oil or for a lighter taste sunflower oil)
- 2 cups coarse semolina
- 100g blanched almonds or shelled walnuts, coarsely ground
for the syrup
- 2 cups sugar (or 1 cup sugar and 1 cup honey)
- 3.5 cups water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 cloves
- 2 cardamom pods
- some lemon or orange rind (optional)
- Place the syrup ingredients in a small pot and let them boil for a couple of minutes. Remove cinnamon, cloves and rind and set aside but keep warm.
- In a large pot add the oil and when it is hot pour in the semolina. Reduce the heat to medium and using a wooden spoon stir constantly. The semolina will gradually start turning gold and then darker and darker until it burns. The colour really is matter of taste: the darker the halva the heavier the taste. I am a medium gold type of person. Towards the end of the cooking time add the nuts and let them toast a little bit.
- Now comes the “tricky” part: you will need to pour the syrup into the very hot semolina. However it will bubble and spatter everywhere so you need to be a little bit away from the pot when you do that. otherwise you will get nasty burns.
- When you have poured all of the syrup into the semolina return the pot to the fire and stir until the halva starts to thicken. The final consistency should be that of a runny dough.
- Pour the halva into your pan of choice (you can use a bundt pan, or a loaf pan or even serve it in individual bowls) and let it cool a little bit before serving. You can dust it with some extra cinnamon if you want and decorate with almond slivers.