Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tirunelveli Halwa

The wheat halwa is my most favoured sweet. As I mentioned once earlier, I learnt this from my grandmother, my dad's mother. She was very good at making mouth-watering sweets. Her mysurpak, halwa and polis used to be delicious. My mother's mom used to make different sweets mostly jaggery based or something like chirotti, manoharam and such. So whenever amma made sweets for occasions, we had many varieties to enjoy.

The halwa making used to be an elaborate affair with hand grinding soaked wheat and extracting the milk thrice, allowing it to stand a few hours and then getting to cook it. Amma would want patti to be around to supervise and patti always wanted someone to assist to constantly stir the halwa while cooking. That is when I would enlist my services!

Every bhogi festival was with halwa as it was my choice sweet. I enjoyed doing it and in the process, have gained a photo memory to making halwa. I have done it many times over the years. It has become my daughter's favourite sweet too. This year around deepavali I had requested the grocer to bring whole wheat for making Halwa. As with delays in shipment and Customs, the man could procure it a bit later only. Nonetheless, I went ahead and stocked my pantry, hoping to make it for Niki when she comes home in December.

When EC of Simple Indian Food announced this month's WYF Speciality Food, this is all I thought of first. Then I recalled my first oppurtunity to taste the famous Iruttukadai halwa years ago. Later, two years ago, I went to Tirunelveli and walked all the way to the shop as the road was one-way to motorised traffic to buy 1/2 kilogram of this. Again last December, we took Niki to enjoy the architectural beauty of the temple standing tall on 14 acres of land and ended up buying more halwa making a huge tick mark against the to-dos.

I googled in to find this blogpost about Tirunelveli and the famous Iruttukkadai. The blogpost says it all!! This post has been put up from the rediff travel post.@
I am not able to credit the original author as the rediff post does not mention one; hence I have mentioned both of where you might get a good read!
You may also please visit Sowmya's post @ Creative saga, step by step presentation of her grandmother's cooking the halwa. Our recipes vary in the sugar quantity only. So go ahead and try which ever suits your tastes!
With the Iruttukkadai recipe on hand along with my very own grandma's, Mallika Badrinath's and my S.Meenakshi ammal book I set out to make halwa!
This recipe is mostly my grandma's which almost matched iruttukadai's in ingredients. But tips on the cooking part were from all of the above four sources. I have managed to click pictures of most of the cooking stages, some with my left hand while the right was vigorously working otherwise :)

I shall give the measurements as per iruttukadai in metric and against that my cups' measurement equivalent to the weights.
I have made with 100 grams of whole wheat. The yield was an astounding 1 kilogram and 150 grams. I can very well relate to the volume of turnover mentioned in the travel post!
100 grams whole wheat (one level measure of 150 ml cup)
450 grams sugar (three heaped measures cup of the above)
225 grams ghee ( a cup and a quarter of the above cup) (I needed few spoonsful more ghee than this quantity)
The following are as desired: ( I always use all of these)
blanched almonds
broken cashews roasted in ghee
cardamom powder
saffron strands immersed in milk
Soak the whole wheat after washing thoroughly overnight. By morning it will look very clumsy with some elastic thread like formation over the wheat.
Grind adding water in a blender. Strain the milk. Return the husk to the blender and grind again with water. Strain and repeat the process.
Having done thrice the husk will be dry and lost all the glutonous feel. Discard that and immediately wash off the strainer and soak the blades and jar of your blender in order to ease the cleaning process. The wheat particles would dry forming a hard crust making it hard to clean later.
Let this milk-like liquid stand for few hours. A thick precipitate will deposit on the lower part and the scum will float over the excess water that was added to aid grinding.

After about five hours, carefully scoop the scum out, filter the excess water and retain the thick milk alone.
To the thick milk add three cups of water and mix. This will be clean and white as milk, but thicker in consistency.
Keep the nuts, cardamom and saffron ready and handy.
Place sugar with some water in a heavy bottomed pan on fire. Boil this down to a thick syrup that forms a very strong thread while pressed and pulled apart between the thumb and forefinger.

Add the blanched almonds and the wheat milk. Stir constantly. The wheat will cook to a very transparent mass, blending with the sugar.
When the mass is thick and you feel pressure while stirring add the saffron, cardamom powder and cashews. Add the ghee in small quantities. The ghee will initially float and then mix well with the cooking mass.
All of these will get thicker and the stirring will get harder. The mass will resemble a sheet of glass falling in a neat ribbon if dropped from a small height. The gloss will be distinct. Add the rest of the ghee and give one last, firm and thorough mixing. Switch the fire off. Leave the utensil on the stove for sometime. The heat of the stove and the thickness of the utensil aid further thickening of the halwa.

Transfer to a bowl when cool and enjoy.

Contrary to popular notion that the Tirunelveli halwa is a thick wheat cake, the iruttukadai halwa is of scoop and eat texture only. While cold it is thick but not cake like. You may re-heat in microwave and have it warm.
The halwa has to be well cooked. The spoon you use will only be coated of ghee and not slightest film of halwa. If it does so, it is underdone and will stick to your palette too. The halwa has to slide down which is why notoriously in Tamil we refer to some act of cheating as 'giving halwa' to someone.
My sister partly does on stove top and transfers to the microwave rice cooker and completes the whole process without much strain to her arms and shoulders. I will check with her the recipe and update at some later date.
The cooking might take around an hour to an hour and a quarter while the preparation of milk is another long drawn process. I use my Indian Philips brand mixer to grind. However, you may grind in the grinder which is used for grinding idli/dosa batter.
There are specially made strainers available in Indian markets. I have used a big size fruit juice strainer.
In general the ratio of the wheat: sugar : ghee can be measured in any cup as 1(level):3 (heaped): 1& 1/4 and cooked to get halwa.
This is my entry to EC's WYF Speciality Food event hosted at Simple Indian Food thro' November
and to
Sanghi's FIL Ghee event which has been extended to the 10th of November @ Sanghi's Food Delights.
My dedication is to Niki, my daughter who loves this and to Raja, my husband who is the one eating all the health food as well as the junk food I cook and blog:)


  1. slurp!
    My fav sweet. Well which is not my fav?
    I started drooling and want to have some fresh wheat halwa right now.
    I have not even seen some one do this. I knew it is a long process but after seeing your post, I am inspired to try it.
    Sometime back, I saw a recipe making use of wheat flour for halwa. I know that is not authentic but we can try when we really crave for some halwa and do not have the time/patience for the usual process. Have you heard of that recipe?
    Chennai la irundha I would have gone out & got some halwa right now. Intha paavam ongla summa vidathu ;)
    Have you tasted jackfruit halwa from krishna sweets? Try that in case you haven't. But, anyday, wheat halwa is the queen of halwa(s)
    I always admire the patience of the old generation for grinding & pounding manually.Guess that's why they stayed fit.
    Wonderful post!

  2. Nice step by step instruction......looks very mouthwater....Yummy.Nice effort in trying this delicious sweet

  3. I don't have a sweet tooth but iruttukadai halwa is the only exception. I have keep eating it :-). Yours looks perfect and closely resembles iruttukadai halwa. Lata ji, I wish I were you neighbor. Dhinanum unga veettukku vandhiruppen.

  4. Woww superb..glossy halwa looks mouthwatering...great efforts!

  5. Oh wow!!! Such a delicious halwa...makes me drool ,though i m not a big fan of sweets.
    all pics are nice..

  6. Even though I am not a great fan of sweets, u make me gain weight just seeing this beautiful halwa!
    I absolutely agree, Tirrutukadai halwa is for scooping not holding with ur finger and have a bite!
    All the hard work worth for a tasty sweet ;)

  7. check this also Lata.....Forgot to tell u same me some of your halwa.....or parcel it to me.

  8. what a wonderful and elaborate presention.. great effort!!!

  9. Nice step by step photos Lata... love this sweet... on our visit we def land up buying some from iruttukadai in Tirunelveli on our way back home to in laws house after sight seeing nearby places... just love it and yours too look so perfect and delicious :)

  10. Lovely halwa, this is one of my favorite ones. My mom makes it very well, somehow mine doesn't turn out like hers. Will try following your tips and very nicely presented.

  11. Idellam Niyayame illai. My GOD! I am gonna take the next flight to Ghana and dera adichify for 1 month to eat all your yummy food. Love the way you captured the jeera padam.

  12. Great effort! Step wise demo will be very useful for those who try! My mom makes this,even she made for this diwali,I have seen her making,even she will sometimes get bubble rashes in her hands !
    Keep up the good work! Looks drool worhty!

  13. Lovely step-by-step pics. The taste of halwa is worth the effort. Its long time since I made it. Everytime I soak and grind whole wheat for dosa, I will think of making halwa but will drop the idea.

  14. My favourite halwa. Nice step by step procedures.

  15. Wow! yummy the tirunalveli halwa looks absolutely tempting and I would grab it and have any time.

  16. hi lataji,
    I used to be a huge fan of this halwa, and whenever there is a visitor from Salem/Tirunelveli they used to get my sister a box of this halwa, and my sister would reliously pack it off to me :) over the years I stopped this heavenly indulgence :( oh lataji...u've reminded me of such yummm taste, and must say u have the patience and skill to dish out such wonderful sweets!lovely snaps

  17. Lata... this is one of my most favt halwa.. Looks really yummy dear.. needs more patience to cook, keep it up da! Thanks for such a tasty entry da!;)

  18. Aha, ipa ennaku odane Halwa sapdanum pola irukeeee!!! My family roots originate from Tirunelveli.. thamirabarani thani innum blood la iruku :) Not to mention the iruttukadai halwa... wow, it is a bliss to feel the halwa sliding down your throat!! Romba kashtamana recipe a matter-of-factly a present paniteenga!! Kalakunga!

  19. Mouthwatering halwa. this is my favourite. I love this.

  20. nice post..I had this a lot during my visit to tirunelveli this year.We got it from shanti sweets..and I was quite keen to learn it from my grandmom ...
    You have a nice blog..was browsing through the recipes..would love to come back again..

  21. oh myyyyyyyyyyy!!! looks so good!! mouth watering :)

  22. Love this..thanks for the entry

  23. lata it is looking great, My hubby loves this sweet, he gets excited when ever he brings it back from tirunalveli, I am not a great fan of eating sweets, but yours look droolinggg..., my mom & aunt used to make this, very long back, i think before i got married I had tried this with my perimma's help, as i said earlier, I don't eat much sweet, I never tried to make them, your's look gorgeous, now I want to try this out after seeing yours, lovely step by step explanation.

  24. Lataji, I followed your recipe... do check out my version..


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I appreciate your valuable comments and tips.
I sincerely hope to improve with them.
Hope we shall interact often.
Thanks once again,
Lata Raja.