This is generally regarded as a traditional Muslim dish for the Trini and Guyanese communities of Indian descent. When I came to Guyana, I learned that people traditionally made this for the birth of a child – I found this out when my landlady, not Muslim herself but having grown up in a close village with Muslims in Guyana, was really hoping for some when my niece was born I think in Guyana it is called sirnee. In T&T, any sweet that is served after a religious function tends to be called sirnee, whether it is halwa, kurma, or even storebought sweet biscuits, if no one was able to make anything for Juma (the Muslim Friday congregrational prayer).
Halwa is somewhat similar to parsad, which is associated with the Hindu Indian community in T&T. They both generally have a flour base, cooked with ghee/butter, milk, sugar and spices. The textures are different, however, parsad being heavier and moister, usually with a gluey feel. But then, as with any dish, different cooks can produce radically different goods and you may have halwahs that taste like parsad and vice versa. And it isn’t just Muslims or Hindus who make one or the other anymore.
Halwah can be made from plain wheat flour, rice flour, semolina, or even Cream of Wheat. If you take a look at the Wikipedia entry for Halwa, our halwa is most similar in concept to the Semolina version from India mentioned there ( I also love the tahini halwa, which we -our family- call halawi). While I don’t mind regular flour halwah, I absolutely LOVE rice or cream of wheat halwah, partly because of the grainy texture but I also think that they have an extra flavour, a nuttiness that the plain flour can’t match. So of course, when I was away from home, and Eid ul Fitr was approaching, I requested a rice halwah recipe from Mom. Mom generally whips up the halwah on her own, even if we have been given prior notice to lend assistance, we often find it already made when we weren’t looking. So I had never made this on my own, and in fact have only made it twice. (Recipe at the end)
I had to particularly request a SMALL recipe, not the full family-for-Eid size. And so Mom sat down and worked out a recipe with suitable proportions. And when I made it, I was a bit surprised that it was just so yellow. I thought, ok, maybe it’s because I am using real butter…but then I tasted all the butter. Some of my kitchen mates loved it, and although I hid it away in the fridge to forget about it, they kept nabbing bits. Ewe was convinced it was like cookie dough and asked me if it needed to be baked or something (this didn’t stop her from repeat sampling of course). Upon relating the tale to Mom, she hurriedly checked and advised that she had scaled down everything…BUT the butter… So she scaled the recipe properly, and did a test run to double check before she sent me the recipe again. While I wondered if I should have put this stress on her to provide a recipe to serve less than 50 people.
So here you have it. The recipe from my mother, as tested by her. Enough to fill a regular cookie sheet, if you choose to spread out the finished product and cut into squares (and this is a good idea – easy storage and serving). Alternatively, you could roll it into balls. A very traditional way of serving however, is parceled off into a little bag and served at functions. Or a bowl and spoon when you’re at home and pigging out indulging.
- 4 ounces rice flour
- 2 ounces white flour (for gluten-free, just use 6 ounces of rice flour)
- 1/4 cup or 2 ounces butter
- 1/2 of large tin evaporated milk
- 1 cup water or more if needed
- 1/2 cup sugar
- whole spices- elaichi, clove, cinnamon
- ginger (grated) to taste, about a tablespoon if you like it that much!
- Extras – raisins, nuts or almonds (sliced or ground), maraschino cherries (very traditional ingredient here…in anything)
* While the milk mixture is cooking, on medium heat in a separate heavy-bottomed pot, add butter and spices and allow to come to a boil
* After a couple mins, add your nuts of choice
* Fry until golden brown
* Add flours to pot stirring well until all butter is mixed into the flour mixture. Stir constantly until flour-butter mixture is lightly browned – DO NOT BURN – Mom calls this the raham mixture – this is also called parching (sounds like patching) the flour
* When raham mixture is brown, add raisins and cherries (IF desired) and then slowly add milk mixture to pot stirring constantly until it starts to thicken, then lower heat and keep stirring until no longer gooey and is firm. At this stage is mixture looks a bit dry then a little water can be added. In the photo on the right, the halwah needs a little more drying out before being done.
* Butter cookie sheet/pan and spread halwah out evenly. Allow to cool and then cut into square. Alternatively roll into balls and serve.
Note – condensed milk (plus the equivalent tin of water) can be used instead of the evaporated milk, but you would need to reduce the amount of sugar.
The number of searches for Trini halwa in the last couple weeks has just skyrocketed. I believe it’s because Ramadan is around the corner. The way barfi searches were tops last year. So I hope this recipe is timely enough to catch the hopeful googlers who want to practise this sweet before Eid ul Fitr!
I do apologise for the not quite in focus state of some of the photos – these were taken with my old Nikon CoolPix 7900 (before I tragically lost it in Gatwick) and not so great lighting at night in my flat in Barbados last year. Mom made this batch while visiting 😀
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