The word halva (alternatively halwa, halvah, halava, helva, halawa, helwa etc.), originally derived from the Arabic root (sweet), is used to describe many distinct types of sweet confection, across the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, and the Balkans. Halva based on semolina is popular in India, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Another common type, based on tahini (sesame paste), is more popular in the eastern Mediterranean and Balkan regions, in countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Greece, Cyprus, Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Macedonia, Albania, Northern Cyprus, Syria, Central Asia, Caucasus region and Turkey. Halva may also be made from a variety of other ingredients, including sunflower seeds, various nuts, beans, lentils, and vegetables such as carrots, pumpkins, yams, and squashes.
This halva, produced and served in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran and surrounding countries (different versions of it are also found in Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Macedonia and Turkey), is usually made with wheat semolina, sugar or honey, and butter or vegetable oil. Raisins, dates, or other dried fruits are often included. Nuts such as almonds are also commonly added to semolina halva. The halva is very sweet with a gelatinous texture similar to polenta; the added butter gives it a rich mouthfeel. The classic proportions of semolina halva are 1:2:3:4, i.e. 1 part fat (a vegetable oil or butter), 2 parts semolina, 3 parts sweetening agent (e.g. sugar or honey) and 4 parts water. The semolina is cooked in the fat while a syrup is being made of the sweetener and water. Then the two are mixed carefully, extras added and the halva is left to settle.
Though semolina halva is considered to be essentially a “Northern” confection in India, it is also quite popular in South India. A prominent South Indian version of halva (or “alvaa”, as it is called in Tamil) is from Tirunelveli (pronounced Thiru-nel-vaeli), a city in the state of Tamil Nadu. A closely related semolina preparation widely enjoyed throughout South India is called Kesari or Kesari-bath.
In India, carrots (for gajar halwa) or mung beans (for moong dal halwa) or bottle gourds (for doodi halwa) for example, may be used instead of semolina. Prepared with condensed milk and ghee, without semolina to bind it together, the end result has a moist yet flaky texture when freshly prepared and bears some resemblance to a British pudding.