Halwa is a traditional Indian milk custard made by the Bene Israel Indian Jews in Mumbai for Rosh Hashanah. This recipe is an adaptation by the author’s mom, who now lives in Israel. In India halwa is made with “chick,” a wheat gluten, but in Israel, a majority of the community is using cornstarch as a substitute, at times together with China grass (agar-agar) — they are quicker thickening agents. The recipe can be made with either milk or coconut milk. At home growing up, Shulie Madnick’s mom always made it with whole milk — as Shulie continues doing every Rosh Hashanah, at her own home in the U.S.
1 liter whole milk (4 cups)
½ liter water (2 cups)
1½ cups sugar
7½ ounces of cornstarch
½ teaspoon freshly ground cardamon
4 ounces (1stick) unsalted butter or unsalted margarine
¼–½ cup sliced or chopped roasted, unsalted pistachios (See note below)
¼–½ cup sliced or chopped roasted, unsalted almonds (See note below)
Extra butter or margarine for greasing
1) Grease 2–3 shallow pans. (You can use different size pans, including a pie dish.) Put the milk, water, sugar and cornstarch into a large pot and stir with a large stainless or wooden spoon until all ingredients are mixed well and the liquid is lump free and smooth.
2) Put the pot on the stove and turn the heat to medium low. Start cooking the halwa while constantly stirring the milk. It will take approximately 10 minutes to start warming up. Don’t be tempted to turn up the heat: Hurried cooking will curdle the milk and create lumps. Stir continuously for another 10 minutes while cooking.
3) When the milk starts thickening, add the butter in small pieces and the cardamon. Continue stirring until the milk thickens to the consistency of a smooth porridge. Total churning should be approximately 40 minutes. Pour immediately into the shallow, greased pans approximately 1-inch deep, and sprinkle with nuts.
4) Let cool completely at room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least a few hours. Halwa is best prepared a day in advance.
5) Slice diagonally into diamonds before serving. Best when eaten within two days. Enjoy!
Note: The nuts traditionally are bought raw, blanched, peeled and sliced. The roasted unsalted nuts in the recipe are a shortcut.
Shulamit Shaulker Madnick (Shulie Madnick) is a freelance food and travel writer and photographer for The Washington Post, among other publications. She is an Israeli born Bene Israel Indian Jew who lives just outside Washington, D.C., where she is working on her first cookbook. Follow her food blog foodwanderings.com, on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.