We celebrated our fatherā™s 60th birthday this month. There was a vedic ceremony to commemorate the occasion, shashtabdi poorthi (completion of 60 years) in the holy town of Shringeri, followed by a traditional lunch party in our hometown.
A team of four cooks, cooked thirty two traditional South Indian Brahmin dishes for five hundred people in three hours. I love the energy in these ceremonial kitchens where cooks create dishes of mammoth proportions with amazing accuracy, no trial and error and no in between tasting sessions as the food prepared is to be offered to the lord before it is served to the others.
I was in and out of the kitchen, chatting up with the cooks and greeting and meeting guests in between. The lunch was served on fresh banana leaves and unfortunately I donā™t have a picture of it to show you.
All the guests relished the meal, but what stood out was this halva made out of ash gourd or white pumpkin. This golden coloured, glistening nectar, studded with cashews and raisins was like manna from heaven.
The following day, on the behest of my mother who has an eye for spotting unusual and unique things, my sister and I made a trip to the local market, a place which we never ever visited when we stayed in our hometown only to discover rare and precious vegetables and moments.
What stood out was this quaint looking store with a gorgeous display of the local varieties of pumpkin. After capturing a few shots, I bought one white pumpkin or ash gourd from this vendor, who picked out the best from his lot for me. White pumpkin is also known to have great medicinal and nutritive values.
This is a perfect dessert with a traditional Indian menu, great served at tea time or with brunch for any special occasion. For a western menu try serving a few spoons of this warm halva over a scoop of good vanilla or butterscotch ice cream. If you want a twist to your thanksgiving meal, then you could serve this traditional Indian sweet, with a lineage and history that is 5,000 years old. You and your guests are sure to be sweetly surprised at how absolutely delightful and divine every morsel is!
Ash Gourd (White Pumpkin) Halva Recipe
1/4 to 1/8th tsp saffron
2 tbsp hot water to dissolve the saffron
540 gm (3 cups) white pumpkin, grated
270 gm (1 1/2 cups) sugar
70 gm (1/3 cup) ghee
4 green cardamom pods, powdered
10 to 15 cashew nuts (or more if desired)
1 tbsp golden raisins (or more if desired)
In a mortar, place the saffron and put in the hot water. After 10 minutes, grind to a paste using a pestle. This will reveal the vibrant hue of saffron.
In a wok or kadhai, place the grated pumpkin and over low heat cook until the water evaporates and the pumpkin is dry, this should take about 5 minutes. Make sure that the pumpkin is stirred constantly, if not there is the danger of it getting burnt.
Once the pumpkin is dry, add the sugar, the saffron mixture, increase the heat a little and cook until the sugar melts. Decrease the heat a little and cook until the mixture is a deep golden colour and dry.
In a small wok, heat the ghee and add the cashews and raisins and fry until they are golden in colour.
Stir in the ghee, along with the dry fruits to the pumpkin and cook until the mixture starts to leave the sides of the pan.
Stir in the fragrant cardamom powder.
Turn off the heat.
A few notes:
- This can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator. It stays fresh for upto a week in the refrigerator and a month in the freezer.
- Tastes best when warm or at room temperature.
- Can be easily doubled, tripled or quadrupled for a larger crowd.