We spend our summers in Bodrum, a popular coastal town on the Southwestern Coast of the Aegean Sea in Turkey. We are very lucky with our neighbors. Though we all are from different age groups and backgrounds, we do share a lot, including food. Whoever cooks something special, brings a plate to the neighbors for sampling.
Ayten hanim, Ayse and Cenk’s mother is a great cook. She was on a cooking show on TV as a contestant and made it to the finals. She is that good! When her son came from the U.S. for his vacation, as a good Turkish mother, she was cooking all his favorite dishes and then some. Needless to say, we got a chance to enjoy some of her delicious specialties since they were kind to bring samples to us.
Helva was one of them. Helva is a fairly common dessert in Turkey. Traditionally it is served at special occasions like weddings, after funerals, circumcision dinners, etc. Ayten hanim’s helva was so delicious that I took my pen and a piece of paper the next morning and went over to their house. I wrote the recipe down as we sipped our teas on their balcony. As she was listing the ingredients, like many Turkish women’s recipes, quantities of ingredients were not always measured with a cup or a spoon, typically listed “as appropriate”. She would say, for example “add butter… the size of an egg”, “add pine nuts… to your taste”(how much is up to you). When I tried it the first time, I measured everything, then, the next time I cooked helva, I decided to put less sugar. Thus, the recipe is slightly modified. Here it is, hope you like it!
2 cups farina (semolina)
½ stick (4 table spoons) butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups milk
¾ cup water
½ cup pine nuts (pignolias)
Ground cinnamon (optional)
Vanilla ice cream (optional)
Combine butter, pine nuts and farina (semolina) in a large pot. Stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula, roast the mixture until pine nuts turn golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Add milk, water and sugar, mix with a spoon. It will be a very watery mixture at first with pine nuts floating on top. Bring to a boil on medium heat, reduce heat and let it simmer, stirring occasionally. Do not cover. As the mixture thickens, it will start to look like porridge. Keep stirring with a wooden spoon to avoid sticking on the bottom. In about 10 more minutes, it will thicken resembling mashed potatoes, but stickier.
Start roasting pine nuts and farina (semolina) in butter
Helva roasted until pine nuts turn golden brown
Milk, water and sugar added
It gets thicker as it simmers
Cooked, ready to be served
Remove from heat, let it cool for about 5 minutes. When it is lukewarm, using an ice cream scoop or a melon baller, shape them into balls and place the balls on a serving dish. You can sprinkle cinnamon over them when you serve. Goes well with vanilla ice cream.