Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Turkish baked halva (sicak helva)

Before I came to Istanbul I heard about sicak helva - a kind of custard made of crushed tahini halva mixed with cream and baked. The dessert is traditionally eaten after a fish main as it removes fish aftertaste completely. The idea really resonated with me, so the evening we did visit a fish restaurant I was more concerned about my dessert than about my fish main. I ended up loving it and cooking it at home. It turned out to be very practical in Moscow, as tahini halva is very common around here.
Going to Baliksi Locantasi was a bit of an adventure for us. It is a very local Istanbul fish canteen near Kadiköy market (Rıhtım Cad. Teyareci Sami Sk. no. 20/1 Kadıköy - Lane behind Murat Muhallebicisi) and it is not normally visited by tourists. I knew I could expect no printed menu and no English speaking staff. So I found what kinds of fish were in season and wrote down their Turkish names before coming.

These really helped when we came in and were asked to pick the fish before seating at the table. The staff wasn't indeed English speaking, but they made so much effort to welcome us that we immediately felt relaxed. We ordered fresh anchovy (hamsi) and they came in 10 minutes. Delicious, lightly dusted with semolina and pan fried.

When I asked for sicak helva for dessert the host looked completely confused. Apparently I fail both to spell and to pronounce it in Turkish correctly. He kept asking and I kept trying to explain... A couple of waiters joined the discussion and some turned out speaking a couple of words in English. So I said "it is baked" and it seemed to have made an effect. The discussion moved to Turkish completely for a couple of minutes, then the host smiled, nodded, said "moment" and left.

One of the waiters rushed out of the shop and came back (perhaps with some missing ingredients). 10 minutes later the host came proudly carrying a large foil envelope. I expected something in a ramekin and already thought it was something else. He set the envelope at the table, teared the top and YES it was indeed piping hot sicak helva. It was very special - baked over grated apple, with some pistachios and dark chocolate buttons mixed in. It was divine.

So I cook it with grated apple and pistachios too. The chocolate I leave out as it is a little to strong for the mild halva flavor. It is a 10 minute job overall - you process some store bought tahini halva with some milk and lemon juice, pour it in a baking dish and bake. What you get out is somehow magically way more than what you put in.

Sicak helva (Turkish baked dessert of tahini halva and cream)

serves 4

2 medium apples, peeled, cored and coarsely grated
200 g tahini halva
160 ml milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 lemon (zest and juice)
20 g (small handful) of pistachios (raw, unsalted), coarsely chopped

Process halva together with milk, butter, sugar lemon zest and juice. Taste and add sugar and lemon juice if necessary. Mix in the pistachios.

Spread the grated apple over the bottom of a 22-24 cm pie dish or in four individual ramekins. Pour over the halva mixture. Bake at 200C for around 12 minutes till the dessert thickens and the top crust is golden. Serve hot.


Home made baklava
Indian carrot halwa
Moroccan mint tea and stuffed dates
Italian spicy custard

Istanbul - a personal food guide


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