Halva is a category of desserts which are very popular in the Balcans, parts of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. There are many variations, flavour combinations and textures. Today we are preparing halvas simigdalenios, literally translated as semolina halva. It is a dessert served all throughout Lent in Greece, and in many other occasions throughout the year.
It is also known as the 1-2-3-4 halva, as the key ingredients are measured by volume: 1 x olive oil, 2 x semolina, 3 x sugar, 4x water. In the classic recipe, the olive oil is mixed with the semolina, the sugar with the water and then the two come together. We’ve simplified the recipe, simply adding everything gradually in the same pot. We’ve also weighed the ingredients, so that it’s easier for those of us who do not like measuring things in cups.
The traditional recipe calls for the aromas of cinnamon, cloves and orange. We’ve also added almonds and raisins. You can add your preferred spices, use whichever nuts you prefer and other dried fruit instead of raisins.
100g olive oil
200g coarse semolina (you can also use fine, or a mixture of the two)
300g sugar (we used light brown sugar, but white sugar works as well)
1/3 tsp ground cloves
2/3 tsp ground cinnamon
zest from 1 orange
50g raw almonds (you can also use any other nuts you prefer)
50g Corinth raisins (you can also use any other dried fruit you prefer)
Roughly chop the almonds, so that they are the size of the raisins. Or however you prefer, it’s a personal choice, really.
In a bowl mix the sugar, cinnamon, cloves, orange zest. Set aside.
In a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pot and over medium heat pour the olive oil and semolina. Stir until the semolina is golden-brown, around 10 minutes.
This step is crucial. So leave all distractions outside the kitchen. Take your time in “roasting” as we say in Greek the semolina, and your halva will have a nutty, intense, wholesome flavor. But this step needs lots of care, so stay with it for those minutes, stirring and contemplating the beauty of the heat, as it transforms the white-yellow grains into golden brown. Or the beauty of those moments of stillness.
Once the semolina is ready, add the sugar-spice mixture and stir for a minute. Add the almonds and raisins and stir for another minute, smelling as the aromas come together.
Remove from the heat and very, very slowly add the water. It will splatter, so be careful.
Lower the heat to its lowest setting. Return the pot to the heat and stir until the mixture thickens up, around 15-20 minutes.
Again, do not leave it alone, the halva doesn’t like that. Yes, this is a recipe that takes time and care. But you will be rewarded. Soon, you will have a delicious halva. But as you may have realised by now, these moments of stillness, as you stir the halva, smell the aromas and breathe -without any distractions- are perhaps even more precious than the halva itself.
You will know it’s ready when it’s quite thick and there is resistance as you stir.
Now there are two schools of thought here.
Some prefer the halva hot, so in that case you are done and you can serve immediately. Others however prefer the halva cold. It’s a big debate in Greece, you must know. So if you want to serve it cold, pour the halva in a greased cake tin (even better if it’s non-stick), and let it cool down a bit. Place in the fridge to let it cool completely. Remove from the tin and serve.
After you are done, take a walk around the house. Perhaps the most rewarding thing when you make halva is the smell that fills your home.
Let us know which of the two ways you prefer (hot/ cold, or maybe at room temperature!) and in any case, do serve with extra cinnamon!