Carrots, you know, are a winter vegetable. Well, maybe you didn’t know this. I didn’t know this until I met Sam. I thought carrots were a year-round veggie, meant to fulfill the vegetable quota in lunchboxes round the schoolyard and satiate the dieter’s craving for the forbidden. No, Sam assured me, carrots are definitely a winter vegetable. Winter was the only season when he was growing up in Pakistan that the markets sold carrots, the only season when he could eat one of his favorite desserts, Gajar Halwa.
Gajar means carrot in Urdu and Halwa means sweet confection or dessert. While carrot cake has made most us more accepting of incorporating vegetables into desserts, Gajar Halwa, made almost entirely of carrots, takes the concept to the next level. Grated carrots are boiled in cream top whole milk until the carrots are tender and the milk condenses and forms delicate curds, tinted yellow from the carrots. Once the milk is absorbed, a scant bit of sugar is added; the carrots are sweet themselves and barely need any additional sugar. Next, chopped pistachios and almonds are incorporated, along with freshly crushed cardamom seeds. Served warm or cold, the golden-hued Gajar Halwa brightens the darkest wintry evening and puts to rest any question of the carrot’s seasonality—this is comfort food at its best, just the thing for winter.
The gajar halwa turns out best when whole milk is used, especially Cream Top Whole Milk, available at Trader Joe’s. A food processor makes an easy job of grating the carrots. This recipe is easily halved.
10 cups shredded/grated carrots
½ gallon Cream Top Whole Milk
½ cup sugar
¼ cup chopped pistachios
¼ cup chopped almonds
½ teaspoon cardamom seeds, crushed
1-2 tablespoons Ghee or clarified butter (optional)
Make the Gajar Halwa
In a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot, combine the carrots and milk. Turn heat to medium and bring the milk to a boil. This is one recipe where you want the milk to boil; just watch it closely so it doesn’t overflow the pot. Stir the carrots and milk frequently, loosening any milk that congeals to the sides.
After about 2 hours, once the milk is absorbed and forms little yellow curds and the carrots have broken down into smaller pieces, stir in the sugar. Continue cooking and stirring until the sugar melts and is fully incorporated. Then stir in the pistachios, almonds and cardamom. For added flavor, make a well in the center of the pot, add 1-2 tablespoons ghee, melt and stir into the carrots. Serve the gajar halwa warm or cold. Will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.