Gajar halwa or, as we fondly call it in northern India, gajrela, is a famous sweet made in all Punjabi homes during winter. Some like it hot, some like it cold, some even like it nine days old! It does take to refrigeration well and some families always have a large tin of gajar halwa so that they can enjoy it for as long as it lasts.
It is a must as a winter dessert. However, this dessert is high in calories and carbohydrates, so those who are conscious about their sugar intake can take a tip or two from my variations in Gajar and Khajur Halwa as well as Sugarfree Gajar Halwa. If you diabetic, or borderline diabetic, be careful about what you eat during the rest of the day, and save it for special occasions. The challenge in making a tasty gajar halwa with some compromise lies in retaining the full-bodied sweetness of the carrots and not to mask it with added sweeteners. My addition of dates is an attempt to reduce the amount of sugar and make the dessert healthier.
To make Gajar and Khajur ka Halwa, first heat a kadai. Add 8-10 medium grated carrots and ½ cup sugar and cook for about five minutes. Add 2 cups skimmed milk and continue to cook. Add ¾ cup seeded and chopped dates, 8-10 roughly chopped cashewnuts, ½ teaspoon green cardamom powder and mix. Cook for ten to fifteen minutes. When dry and cooked, add 2 tablespoons pure ghee. Mix well and this is best served hot. To use a sugar substitute, heat 3 tablespoons pure ghee in a kadai. Add 8-10 medium grated carrots and sauté for about five minutes. Add 2 cups skimmed milk and cook. Blanch 10-12 pistachios, peel and slice. Add ¼ teaspoon green cardamom powder, 10-15 sultanas, 18 measures sugarfree and mix. Cook for about ten to fifteen minutes. Add ¼ cup grated khoya and mix. Cook till the mixture is almost dry. Garnish with pistachios. Serve hot or cold.
When carrots are in season you could look at various savory options like Gajar Tamatar Pulao or Methi Gajar Muthia too. For different ideas during Diwali you could also make a Gajar Halwa Burfi or Gajar Kheer. But ask any Indian, settled in the east or the west, they will claim that gajar halwa is the best!