Traditional Greek Halvas

Traditional Greek Halvas

Traditional Greek Halvas

The word halvas is used to refer to a wide range of different desserts, treats, and sweets, found throughout many of the countries of the Balkan region, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and parts of the Indian subcontinent, including India and Pakistan. The base of the recipe is nearly always some kind of fatty or oily substance, frequently olive oil, sunflower oil, or tahini, combined with a starchy material such as semolina or cornflour. To this base additional ingredients are added. These can be savoury ingredients such such as carrots or chickpeas for a more savoury dish or sweeter ingredients such as sugar, grape molasses, carob, or papaya. In order to enrichen the flavour and texture somewhat, and also frequently for the sake of decoration, further ingredients, such as dried nuts, spices (for example cinnamon), dried fruit (for example raisins), cacao, cloves, and chopped fruit rind, are often added.

The name of the dish most likely originates from the Arabic حلوى (meaning sweet or dessert). It is not clear exactly where the dish originated. Nonetheless, it is thought to have been a popular Greek dish for at least the last 8 centuries.

In contemporary Greek cuisine, one of the most popular of the various forms of halvas is semolina halvas. This traditional Greek halvas is the form of halvas you will be making by following this recipe. It is a simple but delicious dessert that takes just over half an hour to cook and prepare.

Caution: When cooking the dish take care to ensure that you use a low heat and avoid burning the mixture by stirring it continually.

  • Preparation time: About 15 minutes
  • Cooking time: About 20 minutes
  • Total time: About 35 minutes
  • Serves: 6
  • Approximate calories (USDA): 3,645
  • Equipment: a ladle, a large mold and/or a collection of smaller individual or funsize molds, a large saucepan, a regular saucepan
  • 200 grams of semolina 
  • 120 grams of olive oil (you can use sunflower oil if you don’t like or are allergic to olive oil)
  • 150 grams of whole, white almonds
  • 400 grams of water (about 0.4 litres)
  • 200 grams of your preferred sugar
  • The zest of one lemon (or orange)
  • Raisins (if desired)
  • Cinnamon (for sprinkling)
  1. Drop the oil, semolina, and almonds into a large saucepan, and heat gently. Add a few raisins if desired.
  2. Stir the mixture continually and frequently while heating it. Keep heating it very gently and stirring periodically for about 10 to 15 minutes. You may notice that the mixture whitens gradually as it is heated.
  3. Once the mixture is nearly ready, begin making the syrup. In a separate saucepan, heat the water with the sugar, stirring frequently, until the latter dissolves.
  4. As soon as you are confident that the sugar has dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and add the zest.
  5. Slowly add the syrup to the contents of the other saucepan, stirring the resulting mixture simultaneously. Take great care not to get splashed by the hot mixture.
  6. Reduce the heat and stir the mixture continuously, until the syrup is fully absorbed and the mixture becomes thick and stiff. It should no longer be runny but should still be moist.
  7. Tip the halvas into a large mold of your preference or into a series of small individual or funsize molds.
  8. Very carefully turn out the halvas from the mold(s) onto a suitable plate or plates for serving.
  9. Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve.