When you’re strolling through Mahane Yehudah, Jerusalem’s famous open-air market, stop to sample a little halvah. A man wearing a gold crown (because he’s King Of Halvah) will offer you slivers of the delicious sesame-based sweet from a tray. Choose between plain halvah, chocolate halvah, halvah with pistachios or coffee beans or poppy seeds … and many others. With that unique, delicious taste on your tongue, you’ll probably go over to his stand and make your selection right away. The only problem will be restraining yourself from buying too much of the tempting candy.
It seems like such an exotic treat, but you can easily make halvah at home. In 20 minutes! Halvah is basically a sort of fudge based on tahini and sugar syrup. OK, there’s a waiting period of a day, or even a day and a half, but all you need during that time is patience. The halvah needs time to mature in order to develop the characteristic flaky, crumbly texture that gives way in your mouth to a melting, irresistible sweetness. Worth waiting for.
The recipe below makes a plain, unadorned halvah, but you can easily add 1 1/2 cups toasted, unsalted nuts for more texture and color. Or just because you like nuts. Pistachios make it festive, but blanched, chopped almonds are delicious in halvah too, and so are walnuts and pine nuts. Just toast the nuts whole, then chop large nuts finely and small nuts coarsely, before stirring them into the basic halvah.
- 2 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup water (room temperature)
- 1 lb raw tahini paste (or 500 grams)
- 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
- A pinch of ground cloves
- 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Lightly grease a 9-inch pan, or line it with baking parchment.
- Boil the sugar and water together in a medium pan. Stir lightly an reduce the heat. Cook the syrup 15 minutes, or until it coats a spoon thickly. Don’t stir the syrup, after it comes to a boil, just let it cook. Take it off the heat and let it cool a few minutes.
- In another pan, heat the tahini until warm (not hot), stirring.
- Pour into a bowl and add cinnamon, cloves, lemon juice and vanilla extract. This can be done by hand, in a bowl, using a strong spatula. Add the sugar syrup and mix quickly; if left in the bowl more than a few minutes, the halvah will set. Pour it into the pan and press down to get rid of any air bubbles.
- Allow the halvah to cool down completely, then cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24-36 hours. Cut it into slices or cubes while still cold, but it’s best eaten at room temperature.
Recipe adapted from “Aromas of Aleppo” by Poopa Dweck.