June 16, 2010

Halva for All Occasions

Recently, a good friend of ours lost his very sweet and dear mother and I offered to make حلوا halva for the memorial gathering which was being held at their house. I always make halva when someone that I care about passes away. This must be one of the things I've picked up from my mother and have learned growing up in a rather traditional home where wheat flour halva is considered a symbol of bereavement and "funeral food." In my mind, the taste and the smell of halva is much associated with painful feelings of loss and sometimes unforgettable tragedies. This may be one of the reasons or perhaps the main reason that we don't usually make halva as a regular sweet for our everyday consumption, as much as it tastes good and could easily be categorized as a comfort food. Personally, I find going into the kitchen, taking a heavy bottomed pan, grabbing a thick wooden spatula, turning on the heat and making warm, soft and sweet halva both therapeutic and somewhat healing. Also, you get to serve it to others who may fondly remember the departed as they take a spoonful of halva and wish their relatives much patience and the deceased an everlasting peace.

With just a few ingredients, halva is relatively easy to make. All you need is flour, butter, sugar, some saffron and rose water. It does, however, requires some time, patience and your undivided attention but at the end it is worth all the effort you put in.

I've made halva twice since that day, mostly because there was some whole wheat flour left and I didn't want to have the bag sitting in my refrigerator indefinitely. My mother used to make halva with grape syrup but since I couldn't find grape syrup (shireh angoor), I used honey and substituted a cup of vegetable oil for a stick of butter. I was so pleased with the results that I'm planning to make halva more often, no occasion necessary! They keep well in the freezer too. I think halva makes a great 4:00 o'clock snack. It can easily replace any junk food snacks. Halva is a fulfilling "real" food and a melt-in-your mouth home-made sweet that is very rich so a small amount will satisfy your hunger and cravings.  There are many varieties of halva, some like sweet and buttery halva while others may like it to be just moist enough to go down smoothly and with only a hint of sweet. It all depends on your taste and preferences. I had previously posted a Halva recipe.

I wonder: what do other cultures and families cook when someone passes away? What kind of food do you serve?



2 cups flour, sifted (I used whole wheat flour), No bleached flour please.
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup vegetable oil,  (you can use another cup of butter, instead)
1 cup honey, (you can use a cup of sugar, instead)
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon powdered saffron *optional
1/2  cup rosewater

  1.  In a small pot bring water to a gentle boil over medium heat, add sugar, honey and saffron. Stir well until sugar and honey are melted and the liquid thickens a little bit. Turn the heat off, you can set it aside or keep it on the stove to keep warm. 
  2. Place a heavy bottom pan or a non-stick pan on medium heat, add the sifted flour and toast it lightly. You don't want to change it's color but to take away the raw flour taste and smell, continue stirring for 8-10 ten minutes over medium heat until you notice a hint of golden brown on some of the edges of the flour.
  3. Add the butter and mix thoroughly. Add the vegetable oil gradually while stirring to prevent the flour from burning.
  4. Pour the rose water into the honey-sugar liquid and gently add it to the pot. Mix well, cover and  cook on low heat for 10 minutes.
  5. Serve on a platter, make it into little balls, try them sandwiched between wafers or serve them with lavash.


  1. Lovely post. I have my own bittersweet memories of halva. You're right--it is comfort food.

  2. My condolences to your friend. The platter of halva looks terrific! Thank you for this wonderful recipe, I'm looking forward to making this for my dad who is a big halva fan.

  3. Sorry about the loss!! Your post is beautiful and I have printed the recipe because I love halva!!!

  4. So sorry about your friend's loss and so nice for her to have you to take the time to make a traditional halvah! I have seen grape syrup (molasses) at the middle-eastern store, in case you are looking.
    Love this recipe and will make it soon, with molasses though.

  5. I am so sorry about your friend's loss, I am sure they were very grateful for your assistance.

    I see halva all the time in grocery stores but until I read this post had no idea of its association with sad times. For me cooking is very therapeutic so I can understand you wanting to cook. Your recipe sounds amazing.

  6. My sons Great Uncle passed away last night and I spent a good bit of today making your Sholeh Zard and Halva. I am very appreciative of these EXTREMELY spot on recipes...I hate that I am trying them for the first time because of his death. =-(