This is the thirty-seventh installment in Mucho Gusto, a recipe initiative by and for students to help connect us through food in times of isolation. If you’ve got a recipe you think would make a great addition, reach out to us!
When I was in 5th grade, I remember coming home on my 10th birthday to the smell of something incredibly sweet and buttery: roasted nuts and melted ghee (clarified butter). Back then I had—and admittedly still do today—the biggest sweet tooth. I bolted upstairs to find my mom in the kitchen as the sweet aroma of the traditional Indian dessert she was preparing left a wide grin across my face. She was making one of my favorite recipes: rava kesari, also known as sooji halwa in other parts of India. As I watched my mom work, I was in awe, amazed by the dessert’s bright orange color. Ten years later, I learned how to make this exact dish so that I could surprise my mom for her birthday.
Sooji halwa is a delicious North Indian dessert made primarily from sugar, ghee, and semolina— a type of wheat commonly referred to as sooji in North India. The South Indian counterpart for this tasty dessert is rava kesari. Like sooji, rava is another name for semolina. Kesari means “saffron color” in many South Indian languages, a reference to the bright orange color of this treat. Interestingly, the addition of the saffron water—and thus the difference in color—to the semolina in the rava kesari is what differentiates it from sooji halwa.
- ½ cup semolina
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup + 1 ½ tbsp. ghee (clarified butter)
- ¼ tsp. cardamom powder
- Handful of roughly chopped nuts (cashews, almonds, and/or pistachios)
- Handful of golden raisins
- Optional: 2 tbsp. water, saffron
First, add a few pieces of saffron to two tbsp. of water. The water should immediately become a golden yellow or orange color. Set the saffron water aside until the final step. By the time you are ready to use the saffron water, it should be a bright orange or red color.
Add 1 ½ tbsp. of ghee to a medium-sized pan on medium heat. Once the ghee has completely melted, add the nuts and raisins. I like to use cashews and almonds for this recipe, but pistachios work as well. Lightly roast the nuts and raisins for 2-3 minutes, or until the nuts are lightly browned and the raisins absorb some of the ghee. Continuously stir the nuts and raisins so that they do not burn. Remove the nuts and raisins from the pan and set them aside. Do not remove the ghee from the pan, as you will use it in the next step.
Add the semolina to the leftover ghee in the pan. On medium heat, lightly toast the semolina until it absorbs all the ghee and becomes slightly brown. Be sure to stir the semolina consistently so that it does not burn. This step should take approximately 3-4 minutes. It is very easy to burn the semolina so keep a careful eye on the pan.
Next, in a medium-sized saucepan, boil the water. On low heat, add the toasted semolina to the water. Stir this mixture continuously until the semolina completely absorbs the water. Make sure there are no lumps. Add the sugar to the pan, and stir continuously until the mixture is well combined. After 2-3 minutes have passed, the sugar should be completely dissolved.
Add the saffron water and ¼ cup of the ghee to the mixture and stir. Place a lid onto the saucepan and let the mixture simmer on medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Add the roasted nuts, raisins, and the cardamom powder to the pan. Stir so that everything is evenly distributed throughout the mixture.
This quick and yummy recipe should take no more than 15 minutes to prepare, and it should last for several days if stored in the refrigerator. Enjoy!
Recipe adapted from Hebbars Kitchen’s “rava kesari recipe | kesari bath recipe | how to make kesari recipe or sheera recipe”