Gajar ka halwa

January 18, 2009

It’s not that I’m a great fan of gajar ka halwa, but of late these large red carrots have started appearing in the market, which, to someone born and raised in the north, speak eloquently of gajar ka halwa. I don’t have anything against the small orange carrots, it’s just that they speak somewhat half-heartedly – to whatever little extent they speak at all – of half-cooked carrot and peas without any masala of any kind, served alongside a slab of some kind of delicious meat, intended primarily to provide some colour to the plate and not really meant to be eaten. They certainly don’t look even vaguely related to gajar ka halwa.

However. The red carrots have been in the market for a couple of weeks at least, and some of them even found their way into my fridge, without resulting in gajar ka halwa. What tipped the scale, today, was the empty box lying in the kitchen.

Don’t get me wrong: there are always plenty of empty boxes lying in the kitchen. The cook comes and fills them up with nutritious but tasteless food and we struggle to empty them so that we can justify ordering in Chinese or pizza… It’s usually a losing battle – she fills them up faster than we can empty them. (And for doing us this huge favour, we actually pay her a good bit of money! It’s a strange world…)

This particular empty box, though, the one that prompted the gajar ka halwa, I mean, was not ours. It came from S&P loaded with some delicious puliyogray (how do you spell that in English???) and was due to be sent back some time in the foreseeable future, if I didn’t want S&P sending me food in disposable plastic cartons in future… I’ve mentioned before how I like not to send such containers back empty, if possible. But I’ve been lazy about cooking up stuff (especially vegetarian stuff) nice enough to actually give someone. Gajar ka halwa seemed to fit the bill.

Besides, while wandering on Commercial Street the other day, we had made the obligatory stop at Bhagatram, where I spied a huge pan full of gajar ka halwa. I never particularly liked their gajar ka halwa; I believe they make it by some shortcut method that involves boiling the carrot in water, when it actually has to be boiled in a vast quantity of milk, as everyone knows, and it takes forever and a day for the milk to reduce, and that’s what makes it so delicious.

So having seen the gajar ka halwa at Bhagatrams put me in the mood for eating it, but I knew that I’d have to make it first.

The thing is, it’s not a dish I make or ever have made regularly. I’ve probably made it three times in ten years of married life (and never before that). And like any dish worth its salt (or sugar), it’s an art that only practice makes perfect. So I wasn’t quite sure that I wanted to ruin a perfectly peaceful Sunday with an experiment of this sort. Besides, Amit said he was not at all interested in gajar ka halwa and had never liked it.

Still, the cook had come and grated a pile of gajar before I started seriously considering the wisdom of this venture, and once you have a great big heap of grated carrot sitting in front of you, what are you going to do with it?

So I emptied over a litre of milk into the pressure cooker – the deepest saucepan in the kitchen – dumped in the pile of carrot (no idea how much it was by weight, so if you’re hoping for a recipe here, sorry, no dice) and put it to boil.

It boiled and simmered and as it reduced, it started to leave a sticky mess on the sides of the pan, which began to slowly burn… So after it had boiled and simmered for ever, I emptied it into a wide and shallow pan for the rest of the time. Then I did something very smart – I removed some of the excess milk and put it back into the pressure cooker, added an arbitrary quantity of jaggery (gur) to it and boiled it until it threatened to boil over. The jaggery made it a lovely thick, brown fluid which I eventually poured back into the carrot mixture, which had by then almost dried up. Another half hour of boiling, and it was done! Strangely enough, it was just sweet enough.

I thought I had made it ok-ish, but when Amit threatened to finish it off in 15 minutes flat, I guessed it must be pretty good. I managed to keep aside a little for that empty box, but the rest of it finished in far less time than it took to make. Which I suppose is a good thing, but it really didn’t feel that way at the time. Still, I’m not complaining.

Oh, what the heck, I guess I am!

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