Achlah Halvah! (Arabic for “The Sweetest Halvah”)
Updated: Feb 19
People who taste our sweet tahinis at farmers markets sometimes comment that it reminds them of the flavor of halvah. They seem surprised because they suddenly realize that tahini, after all, had earned its place in the sweets department a long time ago. On the other hand, for me, as someone who grew up in Israel, it comes as a surprise to learn that many locals, who raise their eyebrows when they see that the word tahini follows the word sweet in our brand name, actually grew up eating halvah.
I ask them where they grew up, and the responses are various states. We then chat about the large community of immigrants from the Mediterranean, Central Asia, or the Middle East that lived near their hometowns. These immigrants probably shared their unique recipes, but it’s more likely that the halvah they ate as little kids came from the successful Brooklyn-based company “Independent Halvah & Candies” founded in the early 20th century by- surprise surprise -a young Jewish immigrant from east Europe.
The word Halvah comes from the Arabic word Hilo (chi-lou), which means sweet. The first written recipe of halvah appeared in an early 13th century Arabic cookbook, and since then, many cultures have adapted it and developed their own version. In the 70’s and early 80’s, when my family traveled to Arabic villages in search for the best halvah, I was literally a kid in a candy store, staring at all these huge slabs of halvah, with pistachios, almonds, or walnuts on top. Among them, I found the marbled halvah the most fascinating one - and when the men behind the counter sliced us a large piece, deep in my heart I was praying to get one with lots of cacao swirls.
Going back to the farmers markets, no wonder customers recognize the flavor of halvah in our tahini-based spreads. Unlike traditional halvah, where sugar is cooked and crystallized before being blended with tahini, we use natural sweeteners (dates, carob, honey, and maple) in our butters which would never form hard crystals. In our cooking classes, however, we experiment with traditional halvah making, and it’s surprisingly easy and extraordinary. Give it a try!
TRADITIONAL MIDDLE EASTERN HALVAH
1 cup (240 gr) tahini
1 cup (200 gr) cane sugar (honey won’t work here)
1/4 cup water
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
One of the following (optional): pistachio, almonds, any nuts or seeds, or cacao nibs.
Line a pan with parchment paper. If you wish to add nuts or seeds, you can place a flat layer now on the bottom of the pan, or you can add it to the tahini (in the next step). Have your pan ready first because once sugar is at the correct temperature, you’ll want to move very quickly.
In a large bowl measure tahini.
In a saucepan combine sugar and vanilla with 1/4 cup water, stirring occasionally on medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to boil and let the mixture simmer into a syrup until your thermometer reads 245 degrees F. If you don’t use a thermometer – drop a small amount of the syrup into a bowl filled with water. If it forms a ball – syrup is ready.
Once the syrup hits the right temperature, pour it into the bowl with the tahini and QUICKLY mix well. It’s important that you will work fast as mixture is harden very quickly.
QUICKLY transfer the mixture into the pan with parchment paper and press down to get rid of any air bubbles.
Cool to room temperature for about an hour before ready to serve. If you put some nuts on the bottom of the pan – flip and transfer to a serving plate.
Keep covered at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
Tip: now when you’re done, you have a perfectly delicious fresh halvah, but your saucepan, mixing spoon and thermometer (if used) are covered with hard syrup…don't worry - it’s not a total loss! fill the saucepan with water and place on medium heat, add the spoon and the thermometer and wait until all syrup leftovers melt, than wash with soap and water.