This blog has kind of lost its focus, I guess? For awhile I had 3 different blogs: one where I talked about brunch, one where I talked about music and one where I talked about books and writing. The music blog was the first casualty and as much as I still love music, I don’t have much to say about it anymore. I should resurrect the breakfast blog, but since I’m currently living in a country where brunch isn’t as much an institution as it is in North America, I feel like it would be cruel to remind myself. Finally, I haven’t been writing much about books and writing either. I’m not sure why. I’ve been reading fantastic books recently, like Joe LeSueur’s memoir “Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O’Hara”. (LeSueur was O’Hara’s sometimes lover and long time roommate, and his ruminations on many of Frank’s poems are fascinating.) I’ve been writing a lot too, more than I have in a long time, and as much as I love thinking and reading about writing, I’m currently tapped out on insightful things to say about it other than “yay” followed by “oof”.
So, I’ve been writing about Greece. It’s informing my writing anyway, and probably more interesting for you to read about. But, hey, why not make this site even more unfocused and turn it into a temporary food blog? Here’s a recipe.
I’ve mentioned Stella in some previous entries, a neighbour and dear friend who constantly supplies us with food. Last week, she knocked on the door with a plate of halvas. So many countries have their version of halva. The Greek version is of the slightly gelatinous type (rather than nut-butter based), and I’ve spent many years of my life avoiding it. It just didn’t appeal to me – the texture looked strange and I mistakenly thought it was honey-based (which I thought would be too sweet). But then this summer I actually ate halva, and it’s so delicious! Sweet and toasty, not too cloying, soft, but with nuts for texture. A few days later Stella called me over to her apartment so that she could teach me how to make it myself.
Halva is one of those 1-2-3-4 ratio recipes, so you can scale it up or down as you wish. We used a juice glass to measure out the ingredients and ended up with halva that fit in an 8 inch bundt pan. It was too much for just Andrew and I, so next time I’ll make less, unless I’m expecting guests. It’s a ridiculously simple recipe – you barely have to do anything and it’s hard to mess up.
1 part olive oil (You can also use another oil if you don’t have olive on hand. Also, halva has the tendency to be oily, so if you want to use a little less than 1 part, go ahead.)
2 parts coarse semolina (NOTE: Semolina is a by-product of durum wheat. Use coarse semolina for this recipe, which is distinctly grainy. Fine semolina will be more flour-y and won’t work.)
3 parts sugar
4 parts water
Optional: as many nuts as you want
Step 1. In a pot, add the sugar to the water and bring to a boil for about 5-7 minutes until the sugar is dissolved. Skim off any foam that might develop on the surface of the water. Set the water mixture aside.
Step 2. In another pot, heat the oil and add the semolina. This is the only step that requires a bit of work. Keep stirring it around so that the oil is incorporated by the semolina. The semolina will start getting fragrant and toasty. Do this for a few minutes until it’s golden, and don’t let it burn.
Step 3. Add the water mixture to the pot with the semolina. It will hiss and steam, so don’t be alarmed. Stir it around a bit and then let the pot sit. If you want nuts, throw a bunch in now (and you probably do; almonds and walnuts are especially good.) The mixture will thicken into a porridge-like consistency and you’ll see satisfyingly big, slow, fat bubbles coming up to the surface. It will smell very good.
Step 4. Pour the thickened mixture into a pan or a mold – bundt pans are good for this. When it’s cooled and set, turn onto a plate and sprinkle with lots of cinnamon. Then, slice and serve.