Carrot Pudding

carrot-puddingI’d never thought much of the carrot in terms of dessert food. Before you ask the obvious “But what about carrot cake?” question, yes, I know it exists. I just choose not to acknowledge it any longer, thanks to my volunteering to bake that particular dessert for a friend’s wedding several years ago. 150 people to feed and a Barbie-sized oven left me exhausted, but proud of the mission accomplished. I have since moved on. I don’t think I’d even uttered the word “carrot” in years.

And then I went to a potluck dinner at a home I once partly owned, hosted by a man I used to live with, and a dog who used to know me.

The theme of the dinner was Cal/Asian, which gave people a lot of wiggle room with savory dishes, but not so much with dessert. Whole roasted petrale soles, rice dishes, green onion pancakes, and a host of other items crowded the dining room table. Just off center, however, was a bowl of bright orange that caught my attention, as though I had just spotted Lucille Ball standing in the middle of some crowded Beijing shopping center smoking a Phillip Morris– a beautiful standout, if a little out of place amid the beige-y, earthen tones.

“I suppose I should have put that to the dessert buffet, but I didn’t want to move the booze.” was offered by a woman named Razili, who had brought the dish. In my brief assessment of her offering, I hadn’t thought that it was a dessert.

She explained that it was a carrot pudding, or Gajar ka Halwa– a specialty from Punjab, her family’s place of origin.

“We changed it a little,” she said. The milk, the cardamom, almonds for cashews.

It got me thinking about how, as Americans, we all inherit the dishes and traditions of our ancestors from their various distant origins. In my family for example, it’s the cannoli. Every holiday, silver trays of the confections were placed on the table for dessert– one studded with candied citron, the other with chocolate. While the older generations consumed the citron, the kids went for the chocolate. As the years passed and the older folks– some of them actual Italians– died off, so did the use of citron. The cannoli we make today are only with chocolate, to suit our Americanized tastes. They are still cannoli, just not ones my Sicilian great-grandmother would be likely to touch. They are still recognizable, but they bear the branding of adaptation, of assimilation.

I know my family isn’t alone in this morphing trend. It’s how we as a country traditionally have made anything “foreign” or “other” its own. Think pizza or nachos or just about anything Chinese. We take an idea from one place, adapt it to our own needs or desires (the blander version of something exotic perhaps, made with ingredients easily obtainable in our own markets), and the results are familiar, yet different.

That’s how I saw Gajar ka Halwa when it was described to me– strangely familiar (carrots and almonds), yet exotically different (dessert?). Of course, when it was being described, Razili never called it by its Punjabi name. “It’s carrot pudding.”

It was my favorite dish of the night. And, believe me, there were some great things on that table.

Carrot Pudding

Serves 4.

That’s what I’m calling it. The ingredients are hardly exotic, unless you think cardamom is fanciful. In that case, you most likely don’t have Central European, Indian, or Persian ancestors, to name a few.

It’s a remarkably easy dish to prepare (if you don’t mind a lot of stirring), inexpensive, and really, really delicious. I’ve changed Razili’s recipe slightly to suit my own tastes, but of course, that’s to be expected, given the sub-theme of today’s post.

Ingredients:

3 cups shredded carrot

2 cups whole milk

3 tablespoons of unsalted butter

1/3 cup of sugar

10 to 15 cardamom pods or a heavy pinch of ground cardamom powder

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Toasted sliced almonds for garnish. I candied mine.

Preparation:

1. Melt butter in the bottom of a wide pan over medium heat. More surface area= faster cooking time, I promise. Add carrots and stir occasionally until soft and thoroughly cooked. About 5 minutes.

2. At the same time, heat milk in a saucepan or microwave, if you’re that kind of person. I am, but mine broke and it’s low on my priority list to replace it. Add cardamom pods to milk. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and let the cardamom steep. Stir occasionally to prevent the milk from forming a skin.

3. Remove cardamom pods from the milk. Add milk to the cooked carrots. Stir constantly to prevent burning. Continue this form of exercise until the all the milk has absorbed/evaporated. The carrot mixture should be a little wet. About 10 -15 minutes. Add sugar and stir for another 3 minutes or so, just until the sugar has melted and absorbed. Turn off heat and stir in almond extract.

4. Place in serving bowl, top with almonds slices and serve warm. Of course, it’s still really good eaten cold out of the fridge at midnight as well.

Do what you will; it’s your tradition now.

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8 Responses to Carrot Pudding

  1. nahgems says:

    I think in my house it would do better with the original name. I don’t ever serve “carrot cake”, I serve “orange sprinkle cake”.

  2. michaelprocopio says:

    nahgems: I take it you have small children in your house, correct?

  3. I might just try this, and I don’t cook.

    “It’s your tradition now” made me very very happy.

  4. Razili says:

    Thanks, Michael! Kanwal deserves all the credit for the labor and innovation involved in our version of this dish. I just enjoyed talking with you about it and appreciated your interest. (So put me down for the marketing.)

    I’m not really one for name-altering, though. To me, any variation of this dish will always be Gajar ka Halwa. If my grandmother were to hear me refer to it as carrot pudding, she likely wouldn’t come near it (or me). But call it whatever you want; ultimately it’s just utterly warm and delicious goodness.

  5. This really sounds fantastic. My grandmother used to make something she called carrot pudding, which was, in her case, one of those horrifying British things boiled in a cheesecloth, resembling mincemeat. Your version sounds much nicer.

  6. michaelprocopio says:

    Razili– Yes, you are a great marketer and Kanwal is a great cook. Duly noted.

    David– How lovely to hear from you; it’s been a rather long time. Your childhood carrot pudding was like a plum pudding? How interesting. With a hard sauce or just served as is? I’ll bet anything she was a Protestant.

  7. Hi, I just made this for my son and it’s so great. I did introduce some changes that would make it a complete different dish:

    -I used half carrot and half sweet potato
    -I skipped the butter and used part 1.5% milk and part home-made coconut milk
    -Towards the end, I tossed half a cup of cooked amaranth
    -For flavouring I used half a stick of cinnamon, a small star anise and a tablespoon of orange blossom water
    -I only used 1 tablespoon of brown vanilla sugar, it was plenty sweet at the end
    -I added 2 handfuls of cashews processed with a bit of water, it made it creamier.
    -At the end I topped with fat free quark for myself and creme fraiche for my sonny, oh and of course a few cashews.
    -My little sonny wolfed down the whole thing!
    -The mother also had a huge dish of it!!!

    Thanks for sharing.

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