Halwa is a glutinous sweet rather like Turkish delight. It is beyond delicious, but calorie laden so be warned!
Somali halwa is synonymous with hospitality in our traditions. During weddings and on major Islamic festivals such as Eid ul Fitr, kilos of halwa are either made or bought from the halwa makers and served to guests.
Halwa is often served with strong black coffee called qahwa. The bitterness of the coffee cuts the sweetness of the halwa.
Various forms of halwa exist in the Arab world and India. The closest versions to Somali halwa are found in Yemen, Oman and the Kenyan and Tanzanian Indian Ocean coastal region.
Making halwa is a laborious process. This is why it has become the speciality of artisans. Every Somali neighbourhood has at least one reputed halwa maker.
Sometimes we add nuts or sesame seeds. This gives the halwa a delicious crunch.
Halwa can be preserved for several months and does not need to be refrigerated.
Somali Halwa (Xalwa)
4 cups of water
2kg sugar (¼ brown sugar and 1 ¾ white sugar. You can use white sugar if you want to achieve a golden coloured halwa. The brown sugar gives it a deep brown colour))
250g ghee (alternatively substitute half the ghee with canola or sunflower oil if you want to cut down on costs, but the ghee gives it a superb buttery flavour)
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 whole nutmeg, ground
Pinch of saffron for colour and flavour (you can use yellow food colour as an alternative)
1 teaspoon instant coffee (this deepens the brown colour. Don’t use it if you prefer a golden coloured halwa)
Crushed or silvered almonds and pistachio (optional)
1. Melt the butter
2. Boil the water in a deep non-stick pan, and when nearly boiling add sugar over medium heat
3. Mix cornflour and coffee with one cup of water to a smooth paste
4. When the sugar and water are almost boiling, add the cornflour mixture, stirring continuously.
5. Add the dry spices, ghee, nuts and saffron. Continue stirring until the halwa is thickly glutinous and the oil separates from the mixture. This should take about an hour of continuous stirring. It is extremely important to keep stirring as a momentary lapse may cause the halwa to harden.
6. Pour the halwa onto a greased flat tray and spread. Decorate with slivered nuts and cut into square or diamond shaped pieces. Serve when cool.