No letterpress last week as I went on a little holiday to WOMAD in Taranaki. Too many punters and dodgey weather but lots of friends to catch up with and a couple of outstanding acts: Mariza and Ensemble Shanbehzadeh. To tell the truth, one of my highlights was the peach halava on the Hare Krishna combo plate. I went back for seconds it was so good.
Once home again I looked on the internet for a halava recipe, and found a couple on HK websites which revealed the awful truth about halava that I had deliberately forgotten . Like most of the most delicious food in the world it consists mainly of sugar, butter and wheat (in this case, semolina). In its Hare Krishna combination this triumverate of ill health tastes like manna.
Undeterred by the relish with which the HKs describe the buttery-ness of their halavah I decided that I could live with the wheat/semolina and should try and invent a vegan version. I substituted rice oil for the butter and dates for the sugar and honestly, it is almost as good as the real thing. The slightly looser texture of my vegan halavah could be attributed to
a) not chanting the HK mantra as I stirred
b) the liquidity of oil compared to butter
c) the water that evaporated while cooking down the dates and was thus unavailable to be absorbed into the semolina.
My vote is for (c) and I have adjusted the following recipe to reflect that assumption. You may want to try chanting while you stir, just to be on the safe side.
Post-WOMAD Vegan Halavah
1 1/2 cups dates, finely chopped
1 3/4 cups water
1 1/4 cups semolina
120 ml rice oil
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
Start simmering the dates in the water and leave them alone to melt while you do the following: Then put the oil and semolina in a larger saucepan over a very low heat. Stir frequently for ten minutes, nice toasty smells should start to waft. Throw in the walnuts with the semolina, turn up the heat a little and stir more regularly, making sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the saucepan. After another ten minutes of stirring (total of 20 minutes) it should smell good, not burnt. Take both pans off their heat sources. Pour the date water (which should be dark and syrupy) carefully onto the oily semolina and nuts. Expect lots of sizzling and spitting at first. Stir through then put back on a low heat stirring steadily until all the liquid absorbs into the grains, making a pudding-like consistency, pulling away from the sides of the pan. Then put a lid on, lower the heat as far as possible and leave for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit another 5 minutes. Eat hot or warm or cold, it's all good.
Now I'm confident about the method I intend to try various combinations of fruits, nuts and spices (cardamon, almonds & apricots? cinnamon, walnuts & pears?) but not too often as I find this treat irresistable and simply couldn't stop myself eating out of the pot all afternoon until it was almost all gone and I hadn't left hardly any for Al.