I was eyeing the halwa from afar and made my way to the table. Amrita looked at me and said, “Legend has it that the Sikhs from Punjab introduced the carrot halwa to the house of the Mughals. The emperors enjoyed its vibrant colour, flowery aroma, and slightly chewy texture and it gained popularity far and wide spreading sweetness throughout the empire. So, technically, since it was my ancestors who introduced carrot halwa to the world, I will share some with you.”

“Seriously?” I asked.

“My grandfather, some centuries earlier, was a cook in the royal kitchens of the Emperor Akbar, and sweet delicious carrot halwa is his genius. The Mughal Empire was at its zenith, a dynasty that was splendid and modern, and looking for trade with the rest of the world,” declared Amrita emphatically. The orange carrot had already spread far and wide to Europe, the Middle East and South Asia with the advent of the Dutch East India Company to the subcontinent in the 17th century. That’s when my ancestor developed sweet carrot halwa in the kitchens of Akbar the Great, she added.

And there is truth to her alleged rendition. The Mughal Empire was expanding in that era and international traders brought intriguing new goods for exchanges, barter and purchase, and the orange carrot is said to be one such treasure. Carrots were originally purple in colour and indigenous to Afghanistan for almost 5,000 years. They came in a variety of colours, but not orange, until the 17th century when horticulturalists in the Netherlands decided to honour William of Orange, from the House of Orange, by creating an orange carrot. It could have been coincidence, but in life there are no coincidences. The orange colour may have been a mutation of the red and yellow carrot with no significant link to the Royal House of Orange, but the Dutch royalty claimed it, just because it had the power to do so at the time.

Gajar ka halwa is the perfect winter delight. Enjoy this rich and delicious warm halwa on a frosty day before or after a meal, or as a side with chai or doodh pati

This new orange carrot was sweet and a non-sticky variety, making it popular amongst Punjabi cooks. The vibrant Punjabis, much like the colour orange, liked the new imported carrot and the sweetness that came with it. And since it was an era when new cuisines were being developed by expert chefs and connoisseurs, the sweet imported carrot seemed to be of a perfect variety to be tried as the main ingredient in the halwa, with sweetness, milk and butter, sans the flour and nuts.

The province of Punjab took an instant liking to it, and developed innovative new recipes, sweet and savoury. It was a vegetable that peaked with the winter harvest, and its abundance in glorious winters nudged the cooks to develop a hot delicious dessert best served any time of the day, before or after a meal, or as a side with chai or doodh pati.

Carrot halwa

Ingredients

2 ¼ lbs carrots (orange)
1.60 to 1.80 litres of milk
½ pint fresh cream
1/3 pint heavy whipping cream
1 ¾ cups sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons butter (unsalted)
¼ cup oil
8 to 10 green cardamoms
1 tablespoon raisins
2 tablespoons blanched and chopped almonds

Method

Lightly peel and grate carrots and set aside. Bring milk to boil and add carrots, let milk and carrot mixture come to a boil then add fresh cream and sugar, stirring constantly. Keep stirring until mixture comes to boil, reducing heat to medium. Once the milk evaporates (should take one-and-a-half to two hours) add heavy cream, stirring constantly. Once cream evaporates add butter, oil and green cardamoms, stirring constantly, keeping the flame medium to high. Keep stirring until oil separates, and the colour is a rich beautiful deep orange. Garnish with raisins and almonds and serve.

Carrot Cookies

Ingredients

1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups finely grated carrots, (about 3 large carrots)
1 cup raisins
Cream cheese frosting

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. In an electric mixer, combine sugars and butter; beat until light and fluffy, for about three to four minutes. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat on medium speed until well-combined.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger; stir to combine. Gradually add flour to butter mixture; mix on a low speed until blended. Mix in oats, carrots and raisins. Chill dough in refrigerator until firm, at least one hour.

Using a 1/2-ounce ice-cream scoop, put dough onto prepared baking sheets, leaving two inches between cookies. Transfer to oven, and bake until browned and crisped, rotating pan halfway through baking to ensure even colour, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Repeat baking process with remaining dough. Once cooled completely, use a spatula to spread about two teaspoons of cream-cheese filling onto a cookie and sandwich. Repeat with remaining cookies. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to three days in the refrigerator.

Published in Dawn, EOS, November 17th, 2019