If you have any Greek friends, then you have probably heard them talking about Ash Monday, a very popular public holiday in Greece. Ash Monday is a movable feast that occurs 40 days before Orthodox Easter and marks the beginning of Easter Lent.
During Ash Monday, we usually go out for picnic and enjoy a variety of outdoor activities like flying a kite. As you probably know Greeks like to celebrate these kind of holidays with good food, and this one is no exception. It is a tradition to eat seafood, like cuttlefish, octopus and different shellfish, like shrimp and mussels. What I like most on this day though, is the dessert.
Halva is a semolina pudding or you could also call it a cake, made with semolina flour, sugar, oil (many use olive oil, but I think the taste is too strong, so I just use vegetable oil) and a lot of cinnamon. Halva recipe is often referred as “1-2-3-4″, as the traditional recipe calls for one part oil, two parts semolina, three parts of sugar and four parts of water. And of course a lot of cinnamon on top.
3 cups of sugar though, is too sweet for my taste. So this time I altered the original recipe a bit. I used less sugar ans substituted a part of it with honey, which gives extra flavor and aroma. In addition, I added some grated fresh ginger and lemon zest.
I would call this a traditional recipe with a slight twist. If you are looking for an easy, moist and dairy & egg free dessert, then look no further. You will be surprised by this delicious and aromatic cake, that consists of only five main ingredients,
- ¾ cup oil (olive or vegetable oil)
- 2 cups coarse semolina
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup honey
- 4 cups water
- the rind of one lemon
- the zest of another lemon
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger
- 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Heat the oil in a big cooking pot over low heat. Gradually add the semolina. Stir it through allowing the semolina to soak up the oil.
- Using a wooden spoon, toast the semolina for about 20-25 minutes. By toasting the semolina over very low heat for a longer time, you prevent it from becoming too dark and bitter.
- In the meantime prepare the syrup; In a small pot over medium-high heat, add the sugar, the water the cinnamon stick and the lemon rind and bring to boil. Simmer until the sugar has completely dissolved (about 5 minutes). Then add the honey, the ginger and the ground cinnamon.
- Carefully, pour the hot syrup into the pot with the toasted semolina. The mixture will start bubbling so be very careful. Stir the mixture vigorously until the batter thickens and it pulls away cleanly from the sides of the saucepan.
- Add the lemon zest and stir a little bit more.
- Remove form the heat, cover with a tea towel and allow the halva to rest (about 15 minutes).
- Spoon into a bundt pan, or in small bowls and let cool.
- When cool unlold into a platter.
- To serve: Sprinkle generously with cinnamon and honey.