Tar-Halwa for Ramadan
Ramadan 2020_April 23-May 23
Ramadan is a month of fasting and reflection for Muslims around the world. Growing up Jewish in Shiraz, Iran, we could all feel the intense sense of solidarity and spirituality among our Muslim friends and neighbors. Although Ramadan in Iran was more solemn than the rest of the Muslim world, the food for breaking fast was always celebratory.
A page from Shifte, Shohreh's sister's recipe book.
My brothers couldn’t wait until the end of the day to rush to our local bakery to buy tar-halwa, the special sweets for breaking fast. I remember one brother or another returning from the bakery with a plastic bag of the yellow and white treats.
This photograph, taken in Shiraz around 1973, shows my brothers, one holding a bag of Tar-Halwa.
I have been on a quest to find the recipe for Tar-Halwa. I made numerous attempts for its various versions, but none as satisfying as the one I remembered. This version (Masghati), without milk, is a good example. Although delicious, it doesn't have the rich consistency.
At the same time, I have been trying to get hold of a childhood friend, Shohreh. She had been a great friend and mentor when I lived in Iran, but we had lost touch after I left in 1976. She got married, and, as many women do, changed her last name. And to make it more difficult to trace her, she moved to Isfahan.
In 2008, I wrote a story, inspired by our friendship and the hope that one day we would find each other, for NPR’s Hanukah Lights in the hope that she would find me.
Eventually I found her through Facebook after recognizing her younger sister’s picture.
This is a photograph of the two of us in my home in Shiraz. I am offering her a taste of my mother's food.
Shohreh and I spoke on the phone and emailed a few times, but last year my calls to Iran were constantly dropped. She finally contacted me with the surprising news that she was visiting her family in San Francisco.
I remember visiting her family during Ramadan and enjoying her mother's delicious food. Like everyone else, they had Tar-Halwa for breaking the fast. She sent me the directions to make Tar-Halwa from her sister’s handwritten recipe book.
I also found pictures of a bakery in Shiraz on Satin website after searching in Persian. The directions are in Persian, but the pictures are quite helpful. Here is the recipe for the delicious dessert as Ramadan approaches:
from Satin website, translated with changes from Perisan
1 C starch
1/2 C rice flour
6 C milk
4 C water
1 C rosewater
3 C sugar
1. Dissolve the starch in water; mix rice flour and milk; combine the two mixtures in a nonstick pot
2. Over very low heat, keep stirring the contents of the pot with a wooden spoon. Do not increase the heat. Stir constantly for about 30 minute or longer. This procedure is time-consuming.
3. When the mixture seems to be thickening, add sugar and rosewater and keep stirring.
4. If the mixture forms the consistency of whipped egg whites, sticking to the back of the spoon, it is ready.
5. Pour half of the mixture into a casserole dish or a tray with raised sides.
6. Add the dissolved saffron in warm water into the rest and stir for a few more minutes. Pour into another tray.
7. Refrigerate both trays for a few hours.
8. With a sharp knife cut the sheets of Halwa vertically and then diagonally into diamond-shaped pieces.
This version is without milk.
If you eliminate the milk and rice flour from the recipe, the mixture will be a bit more sticky. It is another Iranian dessert, named Masghati.
1/2 C starch
7 C water
1/4 C rosewater
3 C sugar
almonds or pistachios for decoration
Follow the directions for Tar-Halwa.