Carrot & Ricotta Cheese Pudding (Halwa)
Carrot halwa is one of my most favorite desserts and one of the first things I learnt to make!! My family loves this, especially my sister. This post and this halwa is dedicated to her I used to make this so many times!! But after getting married, this is probably just the third or the fourth time. You guessed it – Venkat doesn’t care much for carrots or carrot halwa. I am also not a fan of carrot as a vegetable, but this, I LOVE. Most of you must have tried this halwa at the Indian restaurant buffets. I don’t know what your experience has been, but mine were mixed. Some places did fine, others were outright horrible, serving carrots boiled in milk. No that’s not how this dessert is supposed to be. The best carrot halwa is always homemade, with the best ingredients and lots of love.
This halwa is a winter time treat in India, when the carrots are in season. The sweet, juicy carrots are grated by the kilograms to make this rich dessert with lots of milk, khoya (milk solids), dried fruits, nuts and tons of ghee! This dessert is supposed to keep you warm and cozy. It sure does! But I know a lot of these ingredients are not available to a lot of people (especially non-Indians). So I’ve tried to use ingredients that are available globally, substituting the ghee with butter and the khoya with ricotta cheese. If you are wondering about “didn’t I just see a recipe with ricotta cheese on this page a few days ago??” you are right! I am kinda obsessed with this stuff now. And there are two more recipes lurking in my kitchen that will soon make it to this page.
P.S. – Desi people, just go ahead and use ghee and khoya instead of the fancy ingredients!
Another ingredient that a lot of people use is condensed milk. Though I like condensed milk by itself, I do not find it very tasty in this particular recipe. But that’s just me, I guess I like to make this halwa the old fashioned way 😀 with no shortcuts. But if you do want to try a shortcut, you may replace the milk and the sugar in the following recipe with 1 14 oz can of condensed milk. It will reduce the cooking time and will still be delicious. The choice of spice in a traditional halwa is green cardamom. I like to spike things up with just pinch of nutmeg. It makes a world of difference, but be careful, nutmeg is supposed to be used in very small quantities. It is very potent and can easily destroy your dish if you add an extra pinch. I love the description of nutmeg’s flavor by Rachel Ray – “Nutmeg is one of those spices that adds a depth of flavor that you taste and wonder, hmm..this is nice, what is this?”
If you don’t like/have green cardamom, go ahead and use your carrot cake spices! Yes, cinnamon and vanilla are great substitutes! Throw in some fresh or dried coconut for a twist. Make this with coconut milk and omit the ricotta to make it vegan. The possibilities are endless. You just have to be ready to grate a lot of carrots and spend about an hour in the kitchen A food processor with the grater attachment makes life a LOT easier. Also, while grating the carrots I like to use the medium holes on the grater, neither too thin nor too thick. I believe that the medium grate gives the best texture.
WARNING: This is not a low calorie dish. Only people ready to indulge in a sinful and evil dessert may proceed.
Note: If you are in a really really indulgent mood and don’t mind spending some extra bucks, substitute the ricotta with Mascarpone cheese. Mascarpone has an even milkier taste, but is more than twice the price of ricotta!
Carrots (grated) – packed 3 cups (about 2 pounds, or 1 kilo)
Sugar – 1 1/4 cups (use another 1/4 cup if you like it really sweet!)
Ricotta Cheese (full fat) – 1 cup
Butter (or Ghee) – 1 stick (1/2 cup)
Cardamom pods – 4-5 no.
Nutmeg (grated/ground) – 1/8 tsp
Milk (whole) – 1 cup
Almonds – 10 no.
Cashew nuts – 10 no.
Pistachios – 10 no.
Raisins – 1-2 Tbsp
Ghee/Butter – 1 1/2 Tbsp
Tip: Green cardamom powder is available in many stores, Indian and American. But it is not as potent/fragrant as the pods. What I like to do is buy green cardamom pods. Then grind 10-15 pods with about 1/4 cup of sugar in my coffee grinder and use this powder. I like to make fresh every few months. If you don’t like the small fibers hanging out in this powder, remove the black seeds from the pods and grind only these seeds along with sugar. Use 2 tsp of this powder to substitute 3-4 pods in a recipe. If you are in a hurry, you may remove the seeds, crush them in a mortar-pestle and use it right away. Don’t throw away the green skins, I like to drop them in tea container. Makes the tea so fragrant. Or drop them in some sugar to make cardamom sugar!
- Combine the grated carrots, milk and sugar in a heavy bottomed pan and cook on medium high heat, occasionally until the moisture evaporates almost completely and the carrots are tender, about 30-35 minutes.
Note: A heavy bottom pan ensures that nothing burns very quickly. If you don’t have a heavy bottom pan, reduce the heat to medium and cook for a while longer, stirring occasionally.
- Then add in the butter and ricotta cheese and stir to mix everything together. Then continue to cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. At some point the halwa will start to leave the sides of the pan completely and the fat will start oozing out. The carrots will almost glisten. Turn off the heat at this point and mix in the cardamom powder and nutmeg powder.
- Heat the 1 tbsp ghee or butter on low heat. Add the chopped dried nuts (except pistachios) and raisins and saute for about a minute, until the raisins plump up and the cashews start getting a nice golden hue. Pour this over the halwa and serve warm or at room temperature.
Warm carrot halwa and vanilla ice cream are a match made in heaven! Try this combo and you’ll be hooked!
Note: You may follow the same recipe with grated beetroots too! They taste great!