Greek halva comes with semolina flour (coarse wheat flour). In Greece, if one receives unexpected special guests, whether at one’s home or a taverna (causal restaurant), halva is one of those desserts that can be whipped up within 30 minutes and the ingredients are always in one's pantry.
How to describe it? Something new, yet familiar; almost pudding-like, but can cut like a cake; reminiscent of childhood with the texture and aromatics of cinnamon and cooked cereal.
I like to toast pine nuts for the halva and garnish it with chopped pistachios for great flavour and eye appeal. Nuts are something you can customize in your halva or leave out altogether. It is your choice.
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 ½ cups Cream of Rice
Three heaping tablespoons of Spanish pine nuts or blanched and shredded almonds (optional)
1 ½ cups sugar
Two teaspoons of ground cinnamon plus ½ teaspoon for garnish
¼ teaspoon cloves, ground
¼ teaspoon salt (none if using salted butter)
2 cups boiling water
½ cup chopped pistachios, for garnish
Heat the butter in a large, heavy saucepan until melted over low heat. Add the Cream of Rice, stirring continuously. When the mixture turns golden, add the pine nuts/almonds and stir until the mixture is golden brown. Stir in sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Add in the boiling water cautiously, stir until blended and cook for 2-3 minutes until the syrup is absorbed. Remove from heat and cover for about 15 minutes.
Turn into an 8-by-8-inch dish, press down firmly and even out with a spatula. While it is hot, garnish by sprinkling on a light dusting of cinnamon and the chopped pistachios. Gently but firmly press with hands. Allow to cool slightly, and then cut into 16 pieces. Serve. Any leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator, covered.
Makes 16 servings
Time: 30 minutes