Chana Milk Halwa (Besan Burfi)
If you're familiar with French pâtes de fruit or fudge, you'll want to try the Indian / Middle Eastern equivalent, called halwa. Halwa literally means "sweet" in Arabic. It can be made with different ingredients such as carrots, pumpkin, yams, beets, semolina and many types of beans, lentils or nuts.
Daddy (my father-in-law) had a craving for some chana dal halwa, so my mother-in-law made several batches this weekend. To the chana dal, she added roasted cashew nuts (Kaju in Urdu) for flavor and texture. This particular recipe also calls for a large quantity of clarified butter, or ghee. Ghee is popular in Indian cuisine and can be found at almost any Indian grocery store. This dessert is definitely not low fat or low calorie, but the taste and texture are extraordinary. Store-bought halwa cannot compare.
We made a huge batch and stored them in tins in the refrigerator. The girls placed the sweet candy in cellophane gift bags and tied a pretty bow around them to give away to their friends and teachers. Whether or not you decide to share the dessert with others, you should definitely find time to make some. Your efforts will definitely be rewarded.
Yields: about 50 pieces3 cups chana dal
1 quart whole milk
6 cardamom pods
3 to 3-½ cups granulated sugar, to taste
1-½ cups ghee (clarified butter)
½ teaspoon saffron threads (optional)
1/3 cup cashew nuts, roasted, roughly chopped
1/8 teaspoon salt
Prepping the chana dal:
In a bowl wash the chana dal thoroughly. Pick out and discard any badly-shaped beans, then soak them for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight. Drain as much liquid as possible. Set aside.
Pre-cooking the chana dal; how to use a pressure cooker:
Heat 2 tablespoons of ghee in a pressure cooker (without the lid). Once the ghee is melted and hot, add the soaked chana dal. Cook for about 2 minutes over medium-low heat. Remove from the heat. Add the about 2 cups of water.
Carefully seal the pressure cooker with the lid and lock it. Put it on high heat, then start counting the cooking time after it's started to steam. At this point you can turn down the heat, but it has to continue steaming or it's not cooking properly. In any case, follow the instructions for your own pressure cooker (depending on which model you may have). Cook for 8 minutes total. Remove from the heat. Let stand for about 10 minutes, removing as much steam as possible. Remove the lid. The liquid should have evaporated. Let cool for about 15-20 minutes.
Once cool enough to handle, check for doneness. The chana dal should be almost cooked when they're gently pressed and crushed between your thumb and index finger.
Making milk halwa:
In a non-stick pan, melt 1 cup of ghee and add the chana dal. Cook and stir for about 3-4 minutes. Set aside.
Remove the seeds from the cardamom pods. Gather them in a mortar and pestle and grind to a fine powder. Set aside.
Pour the milk into a non-stick pot. Add the cardamom powder. Bring the liquid to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the pre-cooked chana dal. Cook for about 40 minutes, stirring constantly until the halwa mixture slightly thickens. It might take a bit longer.
Sweeten the mixture with sugar; the mixture will become less thick. Increase the temperature to the highest setting. Stir constantly to prevent the chana dal from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Add the rest of the ghee, salt and the saffron threads. Cook for another 6-8 minutes. It should have a soft consistency. Adjust sweetness.
Place the cashew nuts in a mortar and pestle and coarsely grind them (or use a food processor). Sprinkle the ground cashews over the chana dal halwa.
Preparing chana halwa:
Lightly grease the bowl of a food processor with a silicone brush. Add the halwa mixture. Blend until a smooth paste is formed. Add 1 tablespoon of milk for a smoother flow (if necessary).
You could serve chana halwa as is, warm or at room temperature.
Serving besan burfi:
Note: This may sound confusing but I think the difference between halwa and burfi is that burfi is more dense and can be easily cut into shapes whereas halwa typically has a more crumbly texture and is served in bowls.
Spread the halwa paste onto a baking pan lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Tightly cover with plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for about 45 minutes until it hardens. Create 3-½"-diamond-shaped burfi pieces.
Serve at room temperature.
Enjoy with a hot cup of masala chai.
I did some research but I couldn't find a definitive description of the difference between burfi and halwa. The conclusion I came to is that in India the Urdu-speaking community uses the word "halwa", because of its arabic roots and the Hindi-speaking community uses the term "burfi". The reason I think this is the case is that Indian halwa more closely resembles burfi than it does Arabic or Turkish halwa, which is has a drier, flakier consistency. And, as I said before, burfi tends to be denser and are usually cut into shapes.
I strongly recommend using non-stick pots and pan for making this dessert as the lentils and sugar can easily stick to the bottom of a regular pot.
You could skip the pressure cooker step but you'll have to cook the chana dal in butter and boil it for a much longer time until the lentils soften.
You can decorate the Indian sweets with edible sterling silver or gold foil, called varakh (sometimes vrak or varak). Just press a little silver piece of foil using a toothpick. I didn't have any on hand though. You can find it in Indian stores or in fine specialty stores. The same type of decoration is sometimes used for chocolate.
Ghee is the Indian version of clarified butter. You can find it in jars at Indian stores. But if you don't have ghee, you can use butter instead.
Saffron is quite expensive; I usually get it at a more reasonable price at the Indian market. It gives the dessert a beautiful yellow hue and a nice aroma. If you don't have saffron, you can omit this ingredient or add 1/8 teaspoon of turmeric powder instead for a rich color.
Chana dal (dried chickpeas) can be found in any Indian store. Some people use garbanzo flour (called besan). You can check out a picture of fresh chana on the link.
I used cashew nuts for a mealy texture. The other nuts most commonly used are blanched almonds. You could also use pistachios for a nice contrast of colors or add coconut shavings and raisins if you'd like.
You can sweeten halwa with honey, hot sugar syrup or agave syrup if you don't want to use regular granulated sugar.
You can make a vegan version by replacing the milk with a combination of coconut milk and soy milk (or soy creamer for a richer mouth feel), almond milk, oat milk, rice milk or any other non-dairy milk, and add margarine instead of butter.Published By: on February 23, 2010.