Written by: Alexia Warner
During Sarakostí (Lent Season) Greeks stick to legumes, grains and greens. Consumption of meat and cheese is significantly reduced, although most continue to consume the dairy products and refrain from meats only.
In the dessert arena one particular sweet treat dominates during this time of the year, Greek Halvá, made mainly with fine semolina (simigdáli) and oil. This happens to be one of my favorites and growing up in Thessaloniki I did not have to wait for Lent to have Halvá as along with Tsouréki they are signature desserts of Thessaloniki.
The aromas in Halvá are amazing and for those who enjoy cinnamon and pine seeds like myself this is a treat like no other. Pair it with some freshly brewed Greek coffee and you experience a taste of pure heaven!
Although there are many versions of this recipe, I am a gal of simplicity.
Here is my favorite recipe for Halvá with Semolina:
3.5 cups of sugar (you can use brown sugar for a healthier version)
1 cup of vegetable oil
3 cups of coarse semolina (if you cannot find coarse semolina you can use fine as well)
Place the sugar with 4 cups of water in a pan and bring to a boil, stirring continuously (this is the syrup for Halvá). The syrup should take no more than 4 minutes from the time the mixture starts to boil.
In a casserole, heat the vegetable oil (very hot!) and add the semolina. Lower the temperature to a medium and stir continuously until the semolina starts to take a nice beige color (similar to brown sugar but a bit lighter).
Pour the syrup over the semolina.
Warning: when pouring the syrup over the semolina do so gradually and be careful as at this stage the mixture will spatter.
Remember to stir continuously so that the semolina does not get stuck and burn at the bottom of the casserole.
Turn the heat off and continue to stir for a minute.
Add the cinnamon (to your liking, but keep in mind too much cinnamon will turn the Halvá bitter)
Add the pine seeds (half a cup is sufficient)
Remove from the hot surface and let the mixture rest.
If you are expecting guests, I would highly recommend you place the Halvá in a bundt (forma) and as soon as it cools off, place it in a large round plate before serving.
For those of you who love oranges, you can top it off with some orange zest to enhance the already magnificent aroma of Halvá.
Last but not least, make sure you enjoy it with some fine company...