Friday, April 22, 2005

SHF#7: Gooey Gajar Halwa

The theme for April's Sugar High Friday is at once unusual and very familiar: Molasses!

Familiar because I grew up in a part of India that is a major producer of sugar and consequently, molasses; and unusual because I never thought of using molasses as an ingredient.

Where I grew up, sugarcane production ruled the local economy. Tall stalks of sugarcane can be seen waving along vast expases of land. Seasonally, the sugarcane is harvested and sent to huge sugar factories to make refined sugar or to smaller cottage industries called gurhal to make jaggery or unrefined sugar. The process of making jaggery is fascinating and people often gather at the gurhal to watch and enjoy the process. You gather around a huge pan (the diameter is about 20 feet) in which sugarcane juice bubbles over a wood fire. This is where the you get to chew on sugarcane stalks, roast peanuts in the fire and enjoy local produce. Once the juice is thick enough, 6-10 men will grab the pan with a special harness and pour the juice into what looks like a swimming pool cut like a huge trough in the ground. This is the mould where the thick juice sets into jaggery and is then cut into blocks. The newly made foamy jaggery, scooped from the pool using sugarcane stalks, is the best candy I have ever tasted in my life.

But I digress. Molasses (kakvi in Marathi) is a by-product of sugar production and not of jaggery. We always had a bottle of the stuff lying around the house. Other than eating it with hot rotis as a snack, I can't for the life of me remember what it was used for.

For SHF#7, I decided to adapt a traditional Indian dessert, gajar halwa, a stove-top carrot pudding. Traditionally it does not contain molasses so this is a twist on the classic recipe. I love making gajar halwa, and people often request it but without a food processor, grating enough carrots for the halwa is painful. I was grocery shopping today and dawdling around the produce section when inspiration stuck. Why grate your own carrots when the nice folks at Dole will do it for you? So here it is, gajar halwa with a gooey twist.

Gajar Halwa with Molasses
March05_4

INGREDIENTS
10 oz. bag of shredded carrots (you lucky ones with fancy food processors can grate your own)
12 oz. can evaporated milk
3 tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. molasses
1 tsp. cardamom powder
1/2 cup chopped cashews, pecans, walnuts, raisins
1 tbsp. butter

METHOD
  1. Heat butter in a non-stick pan and stir fry the carrots and nuts/raisins for 3-4 minutes.
  2. Add the evaporated milk and cook on medium heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally till the mixture thickens quite a bit. 
  3. Add the sugar, molasses, cardamom and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring constantly till the mixture is almost dry. 

These days in India it is very fashionable to serve gajar halwa with vanilla ice-cream. Me, I'm gobbling it down just like it is :) The molasses gives a wonderful complexity to the halwa. Many thanks to Derrick from An Obsession with Food and Wine for coming up with this challenging theme, and for writing this delicious round-up of molasses recipes.

16 comments:

  1. Hi Nupur - this sounds really good - I'll have to give it a try. Is it eaten hot or cold?

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  2. Hi Cathy, gajar halwa is quite versatile actually...it can be served hot, cold or at room temperature.

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  3. Looks yummy. I love gajar ka halwa. I have never had molasses in India though. Your recipe seems low-cal...

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  4. Looks very interesting Nupur and a nice different way to serve carrots. I can see, by your post, that in India it is considered a dessert but I wonder how well would it go with steak. I certainly have to try it.

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  5. I was just looking for information about jaggery when, way into the google jaggery pages, I came upon your fantastic blog. I have been cooking Indian food for years (sometimes good, sometimes great, sometimes omg what did I do wrong and do you suppose the dogs will eat it? quality range, and I've managed to make gajar ka halva at all three levels), but cookbooks, no matter how wonderful, are still not like learning from real live people. I'm coming back here, often. I've already sent off your pav-bhaji thing to my pav-bhaji nut sister in Houston (she sent me a foil packet of it for xmas - hardly the same thing as yours, but good enough for me in the middle of nowhere). Would you mind answering some questions I have about jaggery? If not, should I post here or somewhere else? Whatever, thanks and keep writing after eating/cooking!

    Want an Indian Railways omelet sandwich *now*.

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  6. Dear Moth, thanks for your comments :) really made my day...as for jaggery, ask away and I shall try and answer as best I can! The art of cooking is very much a work-in-progress for me too but I am enjoying the journey and love hearing from fellow foodies :)

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  7. Dear Nupur,
    Thank *you*, and now for the "no good deed goes unpunished" part, i.e. dealing with my questions. I've heard of date palm, sago palm and coconut jaggery in addition to sugarcane jaggery. If you've had these, is there a distinctive taste difference? I've read that date palm (gur?) is special, and since I live in maple sugar country, I know that sugars can have very distinct flavors, but I can't imagine what date or sago palm saps might impart. I don't know what coconut jaggery is at all - I thought it might be like barfa, unless it, too, is made from coconut palm sap. Are there areas of India particularly well known for their specific type of jaggery? Also, I've read that jaggery of any kind can come in different states of solidity, and I'm wondering what the most common is, how it is stored and treated (ground?, pounded? left to dissolve?), if it's marketed in syrup form similar to molasses (and how comparable is molasses in the U.S. to jaggery syrup?), and.... And how long does it take to cook sugarcane juice down to jaggery over a wood fire? Is there a ratio like for maple syrup? (forty gallons of sap equals one gallon of syrup for maple). Obviously, part of the reason I'm fascinated is because of the similarities to maple sugaring. But I'm also trying to inject some life into the Wikipedia jaggery article, and anything - anything - you can tell me will be most appreciated. [and if you'd like to do it yourself, please do!]

    Meanwhile, I await your next stove encounter account. Do you have a regular schedule? Not that it matters. I will just keep coming back. I have to read everything you've already done anyway.

    And by the way, the packaged carrots and condensed milk for gajar ka halva? Why, oh, why have I spent so many hours stirring hand-grated carrots and whole milk over a hot stove? Well, you should do it at least once, I guess. Plus, the first time I did it, I did it right, and the results made me think I'd died and gone to heaven. But never again. Probably.

    thank you,
    moth

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  8. Hi Moth,
    Now for confessions about my ignorance :) I have never tasted date or sago or coconut jaggery and hmm, its very intriguing to think about the taste differences. I know that south india is famed for coconut plantations but I have never heard of sugar made from coconut. They make a fermented drink called "toddy" so they do use the sugar content of coconut but jaggery? I wonder.
    The jaggery I am familiar with comes as a solid slab, which can be stored in that state for ages. Hunks can be broken off from the slab and used as required. In fact jaggery is often sold as huge bucket-shaped bricks called "dhep" in the local language (rhymes with tape) but they sell them in smaller novelty shapes too ( thankfully, so folks like me can smuggle them in thro US customs).
    Sugacane juice takes hours to cook down but I have no idea how much juice it takes to make a lb of jaggery or anything.
    Where I come from, jaggery is used as a sweetener in desserts but also to add a sweet not to many savory vegetable dishes and curries.
    Sorry I can't be more helpful...next time I visit my parents I will ask around for more info :)

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  9. Hi Nupur -
    Actually, what you said is fascinating, so I'm not at all disappointed. It gives me some new directions to head. Novelty shapes, huh? Like what? Maple sugar is molded into maple leaves, flowers, and cows and at xmas - Santa Clauses. So I'll guess flowers and elephants -but why wouldn't you be able to bring jaggery through customs? We can buy it here, after all.

    Thank you for your help. Now I'm going to track down that coconut jaggery reference I saw. I must comment on your whole spice egg pilaf in the right place, but until then - sounds great! One of my favorite things in cooking dal is doing that last bit where you fry the spices and pour them on top. I've forgotten the term, but you know what I mean.

    Looking forward to more on spices.

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  11. do you have the receipe for traditional gajar halwa???
    I woudl like a tried and tasted rceeipe...hopefully an americanized version,ex usign doles grated carrots ;)

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  12. Hi Supriya, substituting sugar or jaggery for the molasses in this recipe, as well as using ghee instead of the butter will result in a traditional gajar halwa. I too used the ready-made shredded carrots as you can see in the recipe.

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  13. Moth,
    I'm from South India and I can tell you that jaggery is made from the palm sap. This is not date palm, this is the variety that grows widely in the arid regions of South India. I found an image of this palm fruit at http://www.leisurecambodia.com/Leisure_Cambodia/No.13/palm.htm
    This palm jaggery is called karupatti in Tamil. It does have a distinct taste. It does not come in large big balls or cubes like sugarcane jaggery. The cubes are much smaller. It is mostly used as a medicine, or candy by the kids. The palm sap is also made into crystals, like sugar crystal candy. This palm crystal is called panam kalkandu in Tamil. Kalkandu is the name for sugar crystals. The crystals are not fine, they are uneven, light brown and as big as a human nail. Both these products are made in small batches, usually a cottage industry. So they have impurities, like fine sand or tiny pieces of hay etc. But that doesn't stop us from eating them. The palm crystal is supposed to be good for dry cough. Also to soothe the throat, we drink a tea made from the palm jaggery. This jaggery is really dark in color, like blackstrap molasses.
    Since Sago is really another variety of palm, I'm sure jaggery made from its sap is used in areas where it grows.
    I haven't heard of coconut jaggery, probably because it is more lucrative to use the sap for toddy.
    Vidya

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  14. Hey Nupur, this also came out really gud like others.. molasses twist was really nice ! thanks again

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  15. Abhi, thank you for letting me know! I'm really glad it turned out well. Another advantage of using molasses is that it is very nutritious- especially rich in iron.

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  16. Hi nupur, ur recipe looks great n it is one of my fav sweet dish... but just wanted to know if gajar ka halwa tastes just as good with those orange carrots? since in montreal i've not seen the pinkish red carrots we traditionally use for this recipe....

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