Cookie Monster: Indian-style Spiced Carrot Bars (Gajar Ka Halwa)
No, these aren't cookies. Halwa is a sweet Indian confection that's akin to a firm pudding, and I made a batch in celebration of Diwali, the Festival of Lights, which began yesterday.
Halwa is a little labor intensive but also pretty cool to make. First, you grate a few pounds of carrots, which I did while rocking out to the Higher Love Pandora station. Then you combine the carrots with milk in a large, heavy bottomed pot and cook them until the milk totally evaporates. This takes thirty to forty minutes, but it's neat to watch the carrots absorb the liquid and see the milk steam into the air. When you have what is essentially a carrot-milk paste, you add vegetable oil, or ghee, and fry it, stirring constantly, for another thirty minutes. The mixture turns a deep orange, almost brown, and pulls away from the sides of the pot.
At this point, you can stir in fried raisins, almonds, or pistachios, and a little sugar is a must. A few more minutes in the pot and it's ready. I like to shape my halwa, though eating it freeform is acceptable too. I put it in a small square pan and let it cool, then stick it in the fridge to let the flavors settle and the shape take. Before eating, I let it come back to room temperature. Then, a topping of sliced almonds and, while untraditional, a sprinkling of cinnamon too.
What I love most about Halwa is that while there is a mild milky nuttiness, it's really about the natural sweetness of carrots. Especially with some raisins and dash of cinnamon, it's what carrot cake should really mean.