06 May Semolina Halva with Honeyed Apricots
I’m still over here pecking away at vacation photos, trying to pick my favorites, caught somewhere between my perfectionism, indecisiveness and non-stop schedule of work, weddings and more work. I know I said they would be up soon, and they will be, just not quite as quickly as I’d hoped. It almost seems like a dream, those two weeks, so as you might imagine choosing the images that best represent my memories has proven quite tough.
So, in the meantime I have a peace offering for you guys in the form of Turkish dessert. Which, I assume y’all might enjoy more than my vacation photos anyway, because dessert is why you’re here in the first place, right?
We visited Turkey with a close friend who grew up in Istanbul, and while he now lives and works in Austin, his family still calls the city home, and having our own “local guides” proved to make all the difference in experiencing the local culinary scene. Devrim is a fellow dessert enthusiast, and his love for all things sweet runs [almost] as shamelessly deep as my own. This, combined with the pull of baklava shops on nearly every street corner, resulted in at least one dessert to end every meal and on most days, several more.
The temptation of flaky, sticky phyllo dough, dripping with gooey sugar syrup and covered with the brightest green ground pistachios I’ve ever seen was intensely irresistible. Not to mention the availability of an impressive assortment of French-style pastries, including the Turkish take on profiteroles – a delicate cream puff nearly identical to the Parisian version but drowned in a pool of chocolate sauce at a level of excess that would likely make most French cringe in disgust. But hey, chocolate in excess is always a win in my book. Needless to say, I was like a kid in a candy store, quite literally, and since #vacation, there was no holding back.
I would estimate we averaged somewhere between 5-6 desserts on most days, including but not limited to lunch dessert, dinner dessert, and dessert “snacks” peppered throughout the day just to keep our strength up. I even ate dessert for breakfast one morning, and while I posed it as necessity, I’ve woken up thinking about Turkish delight most mornings since.
And while this may seem like a bit much (fat Americans, anybody?), trust me, the Turkish take their sweets very seriously, so our frequent overindulgence and subsequent praises for the pastry chef were welcomed with warm enthusiasm wherever we went. Thank goodness we were walking ~10 miles a day, otherwise things might have gotten well, tight.
This Semolina Halva is based on a version that we had one evening after one of many seafood-filled Raki-style meals – a long, slow dinner composed of multiple small dishes that are meant to be savored over the span of several hours in between sips of Raki, the Turkish take on anise-flavored liqueur. This particular night we snacked on Ezme (a spread made from tomatoes, peppers, onions and spices then drizzled with tart pomegranate molasses), tiny fried sardines, whole red mackerel, Mediterranean sea bass, and triangles of sharp feta cheese (perhaps the most traditional Raki pairing) before, of course, landing on dessert. First, perhaps in an effort to limit ourselves, we tried an elaborate fruit plate with banana, melon, strawberries, quince, berries and pineapple, and then, because we needed more, Semolina Halva.
Known in Turkish as Irmik Helvasi, on our first meeting it was served warm with a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream, and sprinkled with toasted nuts, though since I was several Raki deep, I cannot remember the variety. I was immediately smitten with the unique contrast of texture and flavor brought about when the warm, toasty semolina swirled with the melting ice cream. In it’s simplest and most popular form, it’s essentially dessert couscous, cooked until fluffy, sweetened with sugar syrup and, traditionally served with pine nuts and ice cream.
My version is nearly identical to the version to which I was first introduced – toasty, soft beads of semolina, dressed in sweet syrup and warm spices, and peppered with crunchy toasted almonds. To add an extra dimension of flavor and texture I added apricots that have been plumped into juicy submission in a bath of golden honey syrup that, when spooned over ice cream, swirls together resulting in a decadent, lightly fruity sauce that soaks into the halva and creates the perfect consistency for scooping into your mouth as quickly as possible. Enjoy!
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup semolina
- 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup dried apricots
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1/4 cup honey, plus more for drizzling
- vanilla ice cream, for serving
- In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the milk, water and sugar. Heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved then remove from the heat and set aside.
- In another medium saucepan or pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the semolina and cook, stirring constantly, until semolina is lightly toasted, about 10 minutes.
- Add the milk mixture carefully, it may spit a bit, and continue stirring until well combine. Cook for another 3-4 minutes then cover the pan and cook for about 5 minutes or until the semolina absorbs the liquid becomes thick. Remove from heat and stir in the toasted almonds and cinnamon.
- Cover and let stand for at least 15 minutes if you'd like to serve warm, or until it comes to room temperature.