food stories

Carrot Halwa Ice Cream

By Varsha Seetharam | August 3, 2012

Photo: Varsha Seetharam

It has been over ten years, but I can still remember hovering around the kitchen, anxiously waiting for the pot of sweet milk-soaked carrots to finish cooking. The warm and comforting smells were almost intoxicating and permeated the entire household: carrots frying in butter, pistachios roasting in the oven and freshly ground cardamom. Growing up, we rarely ate dessert, but on special occasions, my grandmother would spend hours cooking up a true labor of love, an Indian dessert called carrot halwa. Carrot halwa wasn’t just a dessert, it was an event.

We would wake up early enough to get the first pick of the produce, and head to the nearby farmers market to select red, raspberry-colored carrots flown in from Kashmir. The next stop was the local dairy store to purchase a gallon of fresh milk, milked from cows earlier that day, followed by a final trip to the spice shop to pick up a tiny box of saffron and freshly ground cardamom.

Before food processors entered the Indian market, the creation of this dish would take up the better part of the evening. Pounds of carrots were hand-grated, cooked up in butter or ghee and simmered slowly for hours in sweet, creamy, cardamom-scented whole milk. To me, this was comfort food at its finest.

Photo: Varsha Seetharam

Despite having recreated most of my childhood favorites in my own kitchen, from palak paneer to channa masala, carrot halwa is one from which I have shied away. My grandmother never seemed to use cup measures, or tablespoons; in fact, she didn’t own any measuring devices. Recipes always involved a “pinch of this” or a “handful of that,” and without a strict recipe, and the copious amounts of grandmotherly love that I know she poured into every bowl, I knew I would be disappointed with the outcome.

Every once in a while, I develop a craving for the halwa that connects me to my hometown, over 8,000 miles away. Outside of India, Indian desserts don’t hold the same popularity as naan and tandoori chicken (except for the ubiquitous gulab jamun, which is often cloying and poorly prepared), and a delicious bowl of carrot halwa is not easy to come by. I decided to take matters into my own hands, recreating a dessert that commemorates the dish that was so special to my childhood by using the same flavor profiles in a completely unique recipe that would prevent me from comparing it to the original.

With the use of my handy food processor, this recipe took less than an hour of effort in the kitchen. Similar to my grandmother’s original recipe, grated carrots are cooked in clarified butter and simmered in milk, sugar, saffron and cardamom until it reaches the consistency of a thick pudding. The pudding is then mixed with plenty of roasted pistachios, and added to traditional ice cream base ready for churning.

The result is a deliciously creamy cardamom-scented ice cream, swirled with sweetened carrots, chockfull of whole roasted pistachios and a hint of saffron on the finish. It is the perfect summer treat, and all those carrots will help offset some of that guilt when you finish the whole pint in one sitting.

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