Gajar ka Halwa also known as Gajrela, is a sweet pudding, made with grated carrots slowly simmered in milk and cooked with a generous dose of sugar, dry fruits and khoya and desi ghee.
This traditional dish from the Mughal era was called Mughlai Mithai (Mughlai Sweetmeats) and falls into a dessert category.
Apart from the iconic red carrot halwa the kali gajar ka halwa or the black carrot halwa is a favourite of the old Lucknow-walahs.
Not many know that black carrots have warming effects and also that Black carrots were the only carrots known to mankind for a very long time.
There’s a white version which is available at a century-old shop in Old Delhi called Sheeren Bhawan.
White gajar ka halwa is made from white carrots mainly sourced from Ghaziabad, this version is available only from mid-December to mid-February.
The grated white carrots do not shrink and are slightly less sweet – giving the halwa a slightly delicate look and taste.
This handcrafted dessert first sees its origin in the 13th century in Middle-East in the book Arabic Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Dishes) where Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan Ibn al-Karīm mentions a few halwa recipes.
Tracing back history the word Halwa comes from the word “Hulw” meaning sweet. Legends believe that the process of cooking halwa can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire.
It’s said that the sultan of the empire maintained an exclusive kitchen for cooking sweets. At that point, Halwa was supposed to be prepared only with three ingredients – starch, fat and sweetener.
While some say that this dish traces back to the Byzantine Empire sometime before the 12th century CE. in all the recipe traces that one finds sugar was the common sweetener that was used.
Dates, nuts and other spices were used to add to flavour and taste to the dish.
Colleen Taylor Sen in her book ‘Feasts and Fasts’, writes that the Halwa arrived in India during the Delhi Sultanate, early 13th to the mid-16th century.
Legend has it that the Sikhs from Punjab introduced it to the house of the Mughals, perhaps with the coming of the Dutch East India Company to the sub-continent in the 17th century who brought the carrots with them.
In the book ‘Guzishta Lucknow’, it does mention that halwa came to India from the Arabic lands via Persia.
As carrot is a seasonal vegetable, it is particularly beneficial for winter immunity.
It contains a significant amount of Vitamin A, C& K, which provide protection against diseases.
Furthermore, the addition of dried fruits and ghee to the halwa may boost immunity too. In addition to being an immunity booster, dry fruits are also rich in antioxidants & protein.