Today’s guest post is Ricki Heller’s second for this month! Please visit her blog Diet, Dessert and Dogs for more wonderful xgfx recipes. Thanks for your excellent contributions to this month VeganMoFo, Ricki! <3
When I was a child, my idea of “dessert” always—or should I say, only—included a baked good. And said baked good almost always involved chocolate. Chocolate Layer Cake? Dessert. Chocolate Chip Cookies? Yep, dessert. Chocolate Brownies with chocolate candy bar bits? Dessert again. My mom’s much-lauded, mile-high Chiffon Cake? Okay, dessert (but only grudgingly, as it sported no frosting and the tiniest flecks of grated chocolate). Rice pudding? Definitely not dessert in my books.
Similarly, I could never understand my mom’s fascination with candy-like sweets. To me, a lollypop or hard candy were simply a waste of perfectly fine sugar (which could be mixed into a cake batter or cookie dough, for instance). Mom also loved chewy bites, like toffee, Turkish Delight (still can’t get my head around that one) and licorice (which I did enjoy, but sorry, still doesn’t make the cut as dessert).
One of her favorite treats was a confection called halvah, which she used to buy in huge slabs from the deli department of our local supermarket. It was made primarily from tahini (sesame seed paste), egg whites and honey, and to my youthful palate, had an overwhelming flavor of sesame, of which I wasn’t too fond at the time. What I did like about halvah, however, was its incredible sweetness and the somewhat caramelized, melty texture, almost like sponge toffee. And, of course, the ribbon of semi-sweet chocolate that was marbled throughout (I learned later that halvah can also be bought in other flavors, but my mom only ever brought home the marble).
These days, I no longer eat any of the ingredients in that original halvah except for the tahini. As my health and dietary habits changed once I started the anti-candida diet, I learned to love desserts that were decidedly not baked goods, from pudding, to fudge to ice creams,and more; and halvah definitely falls within this more recent “dessert” category.
Once I tasted my own naturally-sweetened, whole-foods halvah, I fell in love with it, both for the rich flavor and smooth texture as well as the impressive array of health benefits. This newfangled version is a great source of calcium as well as fiber, iron, manganese and zinc. The oils in sesame are also very resistant to rancidy and provide phytosterols, compounds known to lower “bad” cholesterol in the body.
Whether you call it dessert, a snack or a healthy whole-food treat, halvah is one confection well worth trying. I’m sure my mom would agree.
This recipe is one of the gluten-free offerings in my cookbook, Sweet Freedom. If you’re curious about a revamped and even lower-glycemic version for those of us on the anti-candida diet, check this one.
- 1/2 cup (80 g) cashews, lightly toasted
- 3/4 cup (180 ml) tahini (sesame paste)
- 1/4 cup (35 g) sesame seeds, lightly toasted
- 2 tsp (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup (80 ml) agave nectar, light or dark
- 1/3 cup (70 g) dairy-free chocolate chips (optional)
- In the bowl of a food processor, whir the cashews until they attain the texture of a coarse cornmeal (there should be no pieces larger than sesame seeds). Add the remaining ingredients and process again until the mixture comes together in a homogenous, slightly pasty “dough.”
- Turn the mixture onto a plastic placemat or cutting board, and push it together to form a disk. Then flatten the disk with your fingers to create a rectangle, about 9 x 8” (22.5 x 20 cm). Set aside.
- In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water (the bowl should sit over the pan without touching the water), melt the chocolate chips. Drizzle the chocolate directly over the halvah in the processor bowl, pouring in a ring shape. Don’t worry if it’s not even or if it doesn’t cover the entire halvah mixture. Replace the processor cover and pulse once or twice ONLY to barely incorporate the chocolate in rivulets through the mixture (any more than this and you will end up with chocolate halvah). You want the chocolate to be distributed between the bits of halvah, but not blended into it.
- Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap on your counter and turn the mixture onto it. Folding the plastic over the halvah mixture, press the mixture into place to form a compact rectangle. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until firm, at least 2-3 hours. Once firm, cut into small squares for serving. Store, covered, in the refrigerator up to one week.
Makes 20-30 small squares.