Lemon HalvaFeb 7th, 2012 | By Peter Minakis | Category: Almonds, Dessert, Featured, Greek, Halkidiki, Lemon, Lent, Nuts, Olive Oil, Semolina
Last year was a pretty good year on a personal level. The blog keeps on rising in popularity, I’m cooking the best food I’ve ever showcased here and I’m meeting some wonderful people – all not possible had I not created this blog back in 2007. Last year I was invited to attend the Sani Gourmet Festival in May and during that Spring I also met with Greek cooking legend, Vefa Alexiadou.
In terms of cookbooks, there was little happening on the Greek front, other than practically every wife being given a Tselementes book upon being married. Vefa came around and explored Greek cookery further, gathering recipes from all regions of Greece, releasing booklets specific to the seasons or type of course. Vefa was also the one who first appeared on Greek TV with her cooking segments on a morning show. Her popularity grew when she broke out and hosted her own show dedicated to just cooking.
Today, if you turn-on your TV set in Greece you’ll see a cooking show on every channel (even English food celebs dubbed in Greek) and all these Greek food celebrities in part owe a bit of gratitude to “kuria Vefa” for opening the doors wide for their celebrity. As someone as passionate about Greek as I am, it was an honour to meet Vefa over a coffee last Spring but it was a privilege to be invited back to her summer home in Halkidiki when I returned for my summer vacation.
I traveled south from my family’s summer home on a very hot summer night, kinda’ sticky if I recall. I finally arrived in the town where Vefa’s summer home is but I was a little lost. All one has to do is ask which way to kuria Vefa’s home and EVERYBODY knows where she lives! I found the home, was greeted like a relative who was way overdue for a visit and treated to the infamous Greek philoxenia at “Vefa’s House”!
We chatted more about Greece, the Greek food scene, recipes and beautiful Halkidiki. We sat and chatted over a light dinner which ended with a light, refreshing Halva I’d never had before. Halva in Greek cuisine can mean it’s made from sesame paste, from corn starch and the most widely common being the semolina halva. Semolina halva begins by making a syrup, often with spices like cinnamon and clove added with some citrus peel.
The coarse semolina is toasted in either butter or olive oil (the latter used during Lent), nuts are added into the mix and finally the syrup is added to the semolina to form a grainy paste that is place in moulds and inverted on a platter and chilled until serving. What set this Halva apart from others was that the prominent flavour here was lemon and the semolina is just slightly toasted, keeping the colour light (as opposed to the usual beige). On that got day, the Lemon Halva was the perfect light dessert accompanied by a cold glass of water.
Lemons are still in season and this gives you another dessert idea that requires less than 30 minutes preparation. It’s easy, it’s light, the pure lemon flavour with the lightly toasted semolina is only nudged with a pinch of ground cinnamon an a splash of vanilla. The real flavour in lemons (and citrus) is the zest and peel and in Lemon Halva, it really shines. Vefa, you’ve done it again!
4 – 4 1/2 cups water
2 cups sugar
peel of 2 lemons
fresh grated cinnamon to taste
1 cup melted unsalted butter or extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups coarse semolina
1/2 cup blanched chopped almonds and pine nuts
splash of vanilla
zest of 2 lemons
squeeze of lemon juice to taste
extra chopped nuts for garnish
candied lemon peel for garnish
- In a medium pot, add the water, sugar and lemon peels and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium and simmer for 5 minutes then remove from the heat. Remove the lemon peels, add your ground cinnamon and reserve. Don’t throw those peels out – thinly slice (julienne) and toss in sugar, pinch of salt and shake off excess then allow to dry on paper towels. Good for a couple of weeks in a sealed container.
- In a large pot, add your butter or oil over medium heat and once hot, add your semolina and stir with a wooden spoon for about 5-6 minutes or until lightly toasted. Now add the nuts and stir to amalgamate and lightly toast, about 2 more minutes.
- Now add the reserved syrup, some vanilla extract and stir over medium-low heat until the syrup has been absorbed and the semolina no longer sticks the sides of the pot and doesn’t stick to the spoon.
- Take off the heat and add the lemon zest, a squeeze of lemon juice (to taste) and place a towel over the pot and place the lid on (prevent a crust from forming). Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before placing in a large mould (you could use a Bundt pan) or individual serving moulds.
- Grease the moulds with oil or cooking spray and spoon in the Halva, pressing it in with a spoon. Carefully invert on a plate/platter and you may have tap and slighty bend the mould for the halva to free up. Cover and chill, serve cool to room temperature with a coffee, cold water or a digestif.
*This recipe and many more Greek desserts can be found in Vefa’s book, Elliniki Kouzina: Zacharoplastiki
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© 2012, Peter Minakis. All rights reserved. If you are not reading this post in a feed reader or at http://kalofagas.ca then the site you are reading is illegally publishing copyrighted material. Contact me at truenorth67 AT gmail DOT COM. All recipes, text and photographs in this post are the original creations & property of the author.