Eid memories and great halwa

Sawine - Wendy Rahamut
Sawine - Wendy Rahamut

Growing up in a Muslim household the two constants for me were halwa and sawine on Eid day, or maybe those were traditions that I totally savoured. We did not have sawine before Eid namaz at our mosque but rather in the afternoon.

Early Eid morning when I was a teenager, I would help my mother cook dhalpuri before the family headed out to the mosque. After mosque she would prepare a delicious meal for us, always with an international twist, so we may have had Moroccan lamb, or Indian meatballs and even tandoori chicken, those were all deemed exotic in the 70s. When basmati rice came onto the culinary scene in the 80s she, being an avid rice lover, easily fell in love with this rice and began to use it in her signature spiced rice with cauliflower and meat casserole.

I actually learned to cook basmati rice at a Toronto cooking class from the "queen" of Indian cuisine, Madhur Jaffrey. The rice is first soaked for 20 minutes, drained, placed in a pot and brought to a boil, it was then sealed with foil, covered again and finished in the oven. The result yielded fluffy grainy rice every time. But for me the standout treat on Eid day was her halwa.

Rooted in tradition, halwa comes from the Arabic word
hulw which means sweet. It came to India from Persia where it was originally made from date paste and milk. Halwa is made today with many different concoctions in India, and it is used mostly in religious ceremonies, Hindus make parsad and Muslims make halwa.

The "essence of a great halwa," my mother would say, "is in parching the flour in the butter until it turns into a rich brown colour." And so every year I would observe her stirring the large, shallow pot with the thick slurry of butter and flour until it became somewhat slack and rich brown in colour. The sugar syrup would be waiting to be added at just the right moment. The mixture would go from slack to fluffy in a matter of seconds, All the time, I would be enjoying the aroma of the browned butter and the spices which were added after loads of crushed cardamom seeds and some cinnamon. The raisins, cherries and chopped almonds would go in at the last moment and the heat turned off. After spooning into a dish and left to cool, we were allowed to enjoy.

I inhaled the halwa before it begins to melt in my mouth, with the nutty browned butter notes and then the cardamom flavour hitting me. The chewiness of the raisins and then the crunch of the almonds make me dig into the bowl for another helping. This is a perfect confection that needs to be tried at least once. For me, I am now the halwa maker in my family so you know what I was up to yesterday!

Eid Mubarak.


The traditional way of toasting the vermicelli is in a frying pan with butter, however, recently I have been toasting the vermicelli in a tray in my oven, 350F for 8 minutes.

2 tbs unsalted butter

4 ozs vermicelli sawine

2 cups water

1 cinnamon stick

1½ cups evaporated milk

½ cup condensed milk

1 cup regular milk

½ cup sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp crushed cardamom pods

raisins and toasted almonds to garnish

Melt butter in a large frying pan, break the vermicelli and add to pan, turn frequently until the vermicelli is quite brown, remove.

Bring water to a boil add sugar and cinnamon stick, add vermicelli and cook until tender about 5 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile in a heavy saucepan place all the milk, add the spices and bring to a boil.

Combine sawine with milk and serve garnished with almonds and raisins.

Serves 6 to 8


Halwah - Wendy Rahamut

1 lb unsalted butter

1 lb all-purpose flour

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

½ cup raisins

⅓ cup each cherries and almonds, chopped

1 tbs cinnamon

½ tbs cardamom seeds

Melt butter in a large sauté pan, meanwhile, sift flour.

Boil sugar in water for about 10 minutes until melted, keep on simmer.

When butter is melted stir in flour and cook on medium heat until butter is a rich brown colour,

Now add the syrup and stir, turn off heat and stir mixture until it becomes fluffy and soft in texture.

Add spices and fruits and nuts, add a pinch of salt.

Remove to a dish to cool.

Serves 10





"Eid memories and great halwa"

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