Aloe vera halwa, anyone?

Who doesn’t like halwa? The chewy sweet comes in a variety of options — suji, wheat, moong dal and more. However, come winter, and all eyes turn to the flavoursome gajar ka halwa.

The bylanes of Jama Masjid (Chitli Kabr) and Chandni Chowk are famous for this delicacy. It is while tracking this dessert in Jama Masjid, that yours faithfully, discovered the lesser-known safed gajar halwa.

There are other winter halwas too — habshi, gondh and aloe vera (gheekwar). One of the oldest establishments that sells safed gajar halwa is Sheeren Bhawan.

What touches you is the large-heartedness of the sweet makers, who happily offer generous samples of their wares before you even decide to purchase it.

Shiraz is the sixth-generation family member who runs the nearly 100-year-old Sheeren Bhawan.

Aloe vera halwa, anyone?

According to him, “It is actually sunehri gajar and sunehri gajar ka halwa.” The white carrot that I get looks more like radish, but tastes entirely different. Rather than the inherent sweetness of the red carrot, it tastes neutral.

Shiraz says, “Sunehri gajar is used because it can be processed beautifully. We are the only ones who make it here. The traditional red variety gets mashed when cooked. Also, it has a sweetness which is imparted to the halwa. White carrot, on the other hand, absorbs the flavour of milk, sugar, ghee, khoya and dry fruits and stays dry even after cooking.”

Sheeren Bhawan has been making this halwa for over 60 years now, with the recipe introduced by their grandfather Tajuddin. White carrots grown in Uttar Pradesh make their way to Delhi and are more expensive compared to the red ones. While red carrots typically cost ₹10 or ₹15 a kilogram, the white ones range between ₹55 and ₹65. Sunehri gajar halwa makes its presence in mid-December and lasts typically till the end of February.

Talking about the other favourite in the shop, the black habshi halwa, Shiraz says, “Seventy types of spices are used in this sweet. They are ground and added to the milk with samnak (sprouted wheat which is dried and finely ground) and the milk is reduced to granulated form. It is further processed and cooled. The process easily takes 10 to 12 hours.”

The aloe vera halwa story is also interesting. Shiraz says, “Farmers from Rajasthan sold aloe vera to us for ₹5 a kilogram as there were no takers then. We were the bulk buyers. Now, factories also buy it for cosmetics etc, and we have become smaller buyers.”

Shiraz separates the halwa to show us the aloe vera gel which has gone into it. The process is “tedious, the leaves are scraped and the gel is collected, which is boiled in water and reduced to form a gum or resin-like substance. This is added to milk and is cooked. When it starts to reduce, sugar is added and is left to process for a few more hours. After which it is cooled and cut into pieces. Aloe vera is a coolant, so to make it fit for winter, it is spiced up. The spices are our trade secrets,” beams Shiraz.

This halwa is made from December 25 or 26 onwards and Shiraz claims they sell it for ₹2,000 a kilogram.

Many NRIs use it through the harsh winters overseas. This halwa can be kept for a month or so.

Edible gondh, which adorns the halwa, comes from the sap of acacia trees. It is also believed to warm the body, and hence is in demand during winter. When gondh is processed with milk, samnak, sugar and edible gum, you get gondh ka halwa — a grainy and rich variety. It is the aloe vera halwa and habshi halwa that stand out. The blend of spices is unusual. “People consume these as a sweet, but it does wonders for their body too,” shares Shiraz.

Though I am a huge fan of gajar ka halwa, this variety has caused it to take a back seat for now.

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Printable version | Mar 3, 2021 2:42:33 AM |

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