Gaajar ka Halwa
Gaajar ka halwa is one of those Indian dishes that always sounds odd to outsiders—a sort of fudge made of carrots—but is so well-loved in India that it has become ubiquitous even in places where it isn’t a traditional part of the cuisine—like Bangalore.
This rich, fudgy confection of carrots, cooked-down milk, sugar, and ghee was a mainstay at almost every single wedding I remember attending in my youth, and with good reason: it’s delicious!
This gaajar ka halwa is a slightly different take on the classic wedding versions I grew up with. Although most modern cooks use refined white sugar to make gaajar ka halwa, ostensibly to preserve its bright orange colour, I’ve opted for jaggery, partly because I try to use unrefined sugars whenever I can, and also because I think it adds a delicious caramel-like flavor to the finished dish. I use a light-colored cane jaggery, which I think doesn’t mar the lovely colour of the carrots one bit. If you do use refined sugar, start with a little less than indicated in the recipe and add more if you feel like it needs it.
I’ve opted for a spartan (if slightly unusual) flavor profile here, using fresh orange zest, whole black peppercorns (which get removed before serving) and just one pod of black cardamom, for the faintest whisper of its hypnotic almost menthol-like aroma.
Before you begin, I should note that though gaajar ka halwa isn’t even remotely complicated to make, it is truly one of those dishes that you really should only prepare for someone you love because of the time and work it involves. The making of it calls for an extreme amount of cooking, stirring, watching, standing, and waiting. But when it’s finally done you’ll be glad you made the effort—as will the lucky person you made it for.
Gaajar ka halwa
Serves 6–8 abundantly
2 lb orange carrots, preferably organic, washed, trimmed and peeled
1 liter whole-fat milk (buy the nicest organic, grass-fed milk you can afford—it
makes a great difference)
1 pod black cardamom
10 black peppercorns, tied into a small sachet made from a small square of cheesecloth
1 cup light cane jaggery, grated or broken into small chunks
¼ cup ghee
Finely grated zest of one orange
1/4 cup halved, unsalted pistachios, toasted in ghee
Shred the carrots using the medium-sized holes on the side of a box grater.
Add the carrots to a large, heavy-bottomed pan with high sides. Add the milk, cardamom, and the sachet of peppercorns and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Once the mixture comes to a boil, continue to cook, stirring often to prevent sticking, for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the milk has completely evaporated and the remaining solids in the pan are dry and leave a clear, liquid-free trail when you pull your spatula through them. Lower the heat under the pan as the mixture gets drier, to prevent sticking and scorching.
Add the jaggery and stir to mix with the carrots and milk solids. The added jaggery will cause the carrots and milk to exude even more of their liquid. Continue to cook, patiently stirring, till this liquid too has all evaporated and you’re left with a glossy, compact orange mass. This can take upto 20 minutes.
Add the ghee and cook, on low heat for a final 20 minutes, until the mixture looks gloriously rich and dense. In the last few minutes of cooking, add the orange zest and stir well to incorporate.
Garnish with toasted pistachios.
Though this is delicious eaten right off the stove, its flavor only improves with a night in the fridge. Remove the black cardamom and the sachet of peppercorns and reheat gently in a low oven or on low heat on the stovetop.
If you were at a wedding in the south of India in the 1980s or 1990s you’d eat this with vanilla ice cream—these days I opt to pair it with just a dollop of unsweetened crème fraîche for that little snap of acidity to cut through the sweetness and richness of this marvelous dessert.