Always on the lookout for new things to tickle my tastebuds, one day I bought some “Turkish un Helvasi” at Damas Supermarket. On that day, the baklava looked fresh and scrumptious, but I was trying to avoid sweets so, instead of buying something that I knew I would love (and gobble down), I decided to try something new and see if I liked it.
Soft oval shaped balls of a light brown colour, they sat demurely on a Styrofoam plate, covered with plastic wrap. “What is it?” I asked the shopkeeper.
“Uh, it is like halvah”, he said.
I associate Middle Eastern halvah with the sesame paste sweet that comes in round plastic boxes, but I was willing to give this new sweet a try. Unable to wait til I got home, I cracked open the package as soon as I left the store, and popped one in my mouth. It was soft, sweet, and floury. Perhaps a hint of sesame paste? But not very memorable. I have to say, I was underwhelmed.
When I got home I googled “Turkish un Helvasi” to see what the ingredients were. As I guessed, the main ingredient was flour. Butter, sugar and water are also used. No sesame.
A simple dessert, that nonetheless requires patience and a lot of stirring, it is made in Turkey for funerals and religious days. It’s usually made with nuts, but mine was nutless. Apparently, in Turkey there are three main kinds of halvah: tahini (sesame paste) halvah, which is usually bought; semolina halvah, and this wheat flour halvah. These last two kinds are usually made at home.
In India, one gets different kinds of halvah: gajjar ka halwa, made with grated carrots and condensed milk, and another kind of halvah whose name I don’t know – a glowing orange jelly with pistachios in it that is oh so tasty when it is eaten fresh.
Of the Turkish halvahs I think I prefer the sesame paste one, as it tastes much better. Turkish un helvasi was interesting for a try, but won’t make it into my usual shopping repertoire. That's okay, though; the pursuit of gastronomic delights is an art, not a science. From the realm of science, however, we can take heart in considering Edison's proclamation upon trying to invent the lightbulb: "I have not failed one thousand times, I have discovered one thousand methods that did not work!"
Keep on munching!