While in the kitchen, I like to use traditional recipes. These typically take more time and effort, but the results are typically worth the extra trouble. Cooking is a great stress buster. The more detailed the recipe, the more the fun!
My aunt (ಚಿಕ್ಕಮ್ಮ - wife of my father's younger brother who stays near Sunticoppa, Kodagu district) is my favourite cook. She has a knack of describing difficult to make items and getting me interested in making them. I typically let the easy recipes pass in favour of the difficult to make ones. One fine day she mentioned wheat halwa. And that it would take 3-4 days to make it. Enough information to add it to my TODO list.
Office potluck lunches and difficult recipes, I have observed, go hand in hand. Everyone tries to make something special, so is worried how their dishes would turn out. We do it for fun mostly, but what's fun if there isn't a challenge in it ? That's where the wheat halwa came into the picture. An audience of 25 people or so is a fair size to cook halwa for. I've always liked feeding people, and here was another opportunity.
It was fun cooking the halwa - and the results were satisfactory. If you are interested in just the recipe, then skip forward to the end of this post. Those interested in learning about my travails, read on !
The cooking process started on a Sunday evening. I called my aunt, asking how much wheat would be needed, and the overall recipe. No more than half a kilo is needed, she said. I decided to buy one kg of wheat. Who wants to run short of the goodies ?
I soaked the wheat in water for one full day. A tough job was coming up next. The wheat was smelling a little after being in the water for a day. I needed to grind this to a thick paste in a mixie, and extract the "milk" from it using a towel. A process similar to extracting coconut milk, my aunt had told me. I had never extracted coconut milk before. Everything has to have a first time.
Extracting the milk was messier than I expected. You spread the towel, put in some quantity of the paste, and fold the towel. Next, you turn the towel from both ends, the intent being to squeezing the paste to get the milk. Something like wringing a jeans pant prior to putting it out to dry! Squeezing the paste once isn't enough to extract all the milk. I needed to add water to the paste twice, and squeeze the paste twice. Physically very strenuous, and a very messy process. Extreme care was needed while squeezing too. Sometimes I was careless in folding the towel. The result : the precious paste oozed out of the sides. Once it splurted all over my T-shirt and in the kitchen. The effect of this last incident was similar to the apple falling on Newton's head : a better method flashed in my brain. The solution was right in front of me - the juice strainer ! I chucked out the towel and replaced it with the juice strainer. The new method of extracting the milk was simple : add the paste to the mixie, then add a glass of water, spin for a few seconds. Finally pour into the juice strainer. After most of the water strains out, force the rest out by squeezing the remaining paste with the hand. Take out the remaining paste for further processing later. Neat ! (If I had done a google search for a wheat halwa recipe, I'd have seen the strainer mentioned)
I had spent 3 hours extracting the milk - and this was just the beginning. The most difficult recipe I had attempted till now, I told myself. More difficult than Kashi Halwa. The clock showed 12:30 AM at this time, and I needed some rest !
A 10-litre Prestige cooker was used to collect all the milk. This is left undisturbed. With time, white matter settles down, and perhaps ferments a little. After one day, I had to carefully remove the water from the top, while ensuring that the white matter is undisturbed. This taxed my patience. When the amount of water in the vessel reduces, it becomes harder to remove the water without disturbing the white matter. Looking at the quantity of the white matter, I have grave doubts that I would end up with a handful of halwa. So I dared not discard even a single particle ! After removing the water, I poured fresh water and mixed it again. Repeat the water removal procedure after one day. And pour more fresh water.
On thursday morning two and a half days of 'fermentation' had happened. And I had to make the halwa. More calls to aunt ensured. The amount of white matter was very less, so I was scared of ending up with very less halwa. Instructions from my aunt were quite clear - mix the white matter with water to a consistency used for neer dosa, cook on a slow heat, add 500g of ghee. After some time of cooking, add 2 kg of sugar. Cook till the ghee separates (this indicates that all water has evaporated or been used up). A little cardamom powder at the end for aroma, and a little food colour just before the halwa solidifies. Cashews wouldn't make much difference, she said. And the final halwa should be transparent like Pears soap !
With the instructions in mind, I started off at 7 AM. I would need an estimated 2 hours to cook the halwa, so I took the liberty of a late start. I poured the white matter with the remaining water into the 10 liter cooker. The water level must have been a third of the cooker. I used a medium flame to cook the halwa. Kept stirring the mix periodically with a long flat spoon. Took a break for a few minutes.
Horror was in store for me when I resumed stirring. Some halwa had almost solidified at the bottom. No amount of stirring seemed to help.
Not many have seen me panic. If you want to - you just needed to see me in the kitchen that day ! I turned off the gas in panic. Something had to be done immediately to salvage the solidified halwa. I took out the solid parts and mixed them with water, and poured even more water into the mix. By this time, the cooker was half full of water ! And small lumps of halwa were floating. Not much I could do at this time. Turned on the stove, and added the 2 kg sugar. By this time, I was sure to get about half a cooker of halwa, so I emptied another kg of sugar into the mix. The whole 500g packet of nandini ghee disappeared in no time into the mix. I ensured that I kept stirring all the time. I also put in a lot of effort into crushing the small lumps of halwa. They were soft. Using two spoons, I was able to crush some of them and integrate them back into the water. After a certain point, I gave up.
After about an hour and a half of starting, the contents of the cooker resembled a paste. The small lumps were there, but were very few and small. I had reason to heave a sigh of relief.
I was against usage of colour, but my aunt had insisted on it. Being my favourite cook, she was successful. I mixed a very small quantity of food colour with water and mixed it into the halwa.
By this time, I had fried a packet of cashews to golden brown (using a little ghee), and added it to the mix.
As the halwa started losing water, I had to be careful while stirring. Hot steam escapes when you try to stir the halwa. This can cause boils on the hand. For protection, I wrapped a small turkey towel around my hand.
At the two hour mark, very less of water remained in the halwa. The ghee hadn't started to separate. This is a critical point in making the halwa. Wait for too long, and you may end up with very hard halwa. Take it out too soon, and you end up with halwa you can't bite. I had experience making Kashi Halwa, and wanted to avoid overhardening. So, after 2 hours 5 minutes, I took the mix off the cooker and mixed in some cardamom powder for aroma.
The halwa was spread on two large plates greased with ghee. The colour seemed right and it tasted good ! The halwa took more than two hours to cool down, but it was ready in time for lunch. I used a knife to try to cut the halwa into pieces. No luck - it hadn't hardened enough - a spoon was needed for serving. Not bad for a first try, I told myself.
I have a very active team at office. We had 16 items total for the potluck - 1 salad, bajjis, maddur vada, parota, phulka, baingan bharta, handi biryani, methi bath, curd seviyan, and 4 sweets (seviyan payasa, carrot halwa, hayagriva and wheat halwa)! Topped off with ice cream. Everyone had a great time.
Overall, I was happy with the halwa. Just the right colour and taste. Could have kept it on the fire for a little longer. I distributed it to others in my office other than my immediate team. Joy spreads by sharing...
The long awaited recipe follows. It differs from the recipes you will find on the internet in one major aspect : the duration you need to keep the "wheat milk" in the water. Besides, I mention quantities in kgs, not "cups".
What you need to make the halwa:
- 1 kg wheat
- 3 kg sugar
- 500g ghee
- 10-20 elaichi, ground to powder
- Few pinches of Food colour
- Lot of time, patience !
Prepares: 5 kg of halwa !
- Soak the wheat in water for 1 full day.
- Grind wheat in a mixie with water. Extract milk using a juice strainer. Grind the leftover paste with more water. Repeat till you get no more wheat "milk".
- Leave the wheat milk undisturbed for a day. White matter will precipitate to the bottom. Remove as much water from the top (it might smell a little!). Repeat this for 3 days.
- Transfer the white matter into a 10 liter cooker, add water till about half the cooker's capacity.
- Cook on a low flame for half an hour with continuous stirring and scraping of the bottom. Resist the temptation to increase heat! Ensure nothing gets stuck at the bottom. In half an hour's time, white matter would have gotten mixed - and you'll have a thin paste in the cooker
- Add sugar & ghee to the mix (will adding the ghee earlier help?).
- Cook on a medium flame for at-least an hour more! Keep stirring all the time.
- Add the food colour after mixing it thoroughly with water. Mix the halwa well.
- Continue cooking on medium flame with occasional stirring. When most(or all) the water has evaporated, add powdered elaichi for aroma. You will need more than 2 hours 15 minutes to reach this state !
- Turn off the gas. Spread halwa on two large plates greased with ghee! Let the whole thing cool for a couple of hours.
- Cut the halwa. Enjoy - and ensure people praise you for the multi-day marathon effort
See how simple the recipe looks. To execute the recipe - you already have detailed instructions above
Unless you are strong of heart, you would want to make a saner quantity of halwa - say from 250 g of wheat. Remember to scale down the quantity of the rest of the ingredients. If you try to make this, then good luck - and let me know how the halwa turned out. Or better yet, send me some