Eid Is Here; So Is Fragrant, Fudge-Topped Carrot Halva

June 23, 2017

In Karachi, Pakistan, where I grew up, a clear, starlit sky and balmy breeze were reasons enough to race up to the rooftop—but on the night of the 29th fast of Ramadan, the only reason was to catch the first glimpse of the new moon, followed by that deafening siren from the mosque: Eid, just a sunrise away. As a child, the anticipation of collecting colorful packets of eidee (gifted money) and the eating mithai (sweetmeats) dulled out much else. But as I grew up, my interests (and nose) were diverted towards the kitchen, with its scents of saffron and other aromatic spices.

In my house, the eve of Eid meant gajar ka halva, that ubiquitous South Asian dessert. I watched as my mother grated a kilo of deep red, sweet, intensely crunchy Pakistani carrots and throw them into a steel cauldron with cloves, cardamom, and shocking amounts of buffalo milk cream. Many families have their own secret generational recipes for gajar ka halva; my mother’s combines recipes passed down by both my grandmothers. The aromas of Eid made sleeping next to impossible.

After a month of abstinence and somber evenings, Eid brings with it a new hope, a time for celebration, featuring the best we can lay on our tables—because feeding others goes to the very heart of the holiday. Families gather, embrace and share abundant platters, as food plays center stage; no expense is spared.

In Pakistan, a day of feasting begins with an indulgent breakfast of sheer khurma (sweet vermicelli, saffron, and date milk) or qawwami seviyan (sugar concentrated vermicelli with cream). Preparation for the Eid daawat (joyous feast) begins days before the event, resulting in an extravagant array of dishes, including some favorites, such as beef shank nihari, goat biryani infused with kewra water, paya (goats trotter stew), homemade naans, lentils and spiced vegetables—but for me, sweets always take center stage. I remember how, after all the plates were removed, my mother would unveil her laboriously prepared carrot halva. Adorned with gold or silver leaf and crowned with fresh slivered pistachios, it exuded a haunting aroma of cardamom and sometimes saffron. Whether eaten hot or cold, this grand finale was worth every minute of my mother’s hard work. Eid was now complete.

To most Pakistanis, seviyan (sweet vermicelli with pistachios, cardamom and saffron) is synonymous with Eid, but gajar ka halva takes me home, and it is re-creatable in most places. Today, I’m recreating it in Scotland, using local produce, and don’t need many unusual ingredients. Scottish carrots change the flavor, but gajar ka halva nonetheless tastes like Karachi—maybe because the spirit of the recipe never changes, nor the love with which it is cooked. To me, gajar ka halva evokes a deep sense of heritage. I find it is the ultimate Pakistani celebratory dessert, no matter where I am in the world.

Any foods that transport you to your childhood? Let us know in the comments!

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Sumayya is a food writer and cookery teacher who grew up in Pakistan, but has now found home in Glasgow. Sumayya is passionate about sharing the flavours of her homeland with a view to highlight Pakistani cuisine as a distinct one. The author or two cookbooks: Summers Under The Tamarind Tree (Frances Lincoln) and Mountain Berries and Desert Spice (Frances Lincoln, out April 2017), her writing reminisces about food and memories growing up in Pakistan. She writes for many publications, appears on television, and co-presents BBC Kitchen Cafe weekly, on BBC Radio Scotland.

1 Comment

Susan C. June 25, 2017
Perfect! Just the recipe I need to take to friends tonight to celebrate Eid in Dubai! Thank you and Eid Mubarak!