Pistachio and Cardamom Halva
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Making candy at home seems daunting, but it’s often surprisingly simple. With a few ingredients, you can magically turn out a batch of halva, a tahini-based confection that’s popular throughout the world. This pistachio and cardamom version comes from Georgina Hayden’s new cookbook, Nistisima, and requires just six ingredients (it’s also vegan and gluten free).
“If you visit a Greek Orthodox person’s home during Lent, you’re almost certain to find a slab of tahini halva on the counter,” she explains, “ready to slice whenever a sugar hit is needed. I love all the flavor combinations, but pistachio is my absolute favorite. You don’t have to add cardamom to it—most people don’t—but this is my nod to the vast amount of varying sweets named halva. It’s a term that spreads from Eastern Europe, through the Middle East and over to western Asia, where the Indian cardamom-laced versions are some of my all-time favorite foods.”
Recipe adapted from Nistisima, Copyright © 2022 Georgina Hayden. Photography © 2022 Kristin Perers. Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury.
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
Scant ½ cup (50g) shelled pistachios, roughly chopped, divided
8 cardamom pods
1 cup (250g) tahini
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1⅛ cups (230g) granulated sugar
1. Grease the inside of a loaf pan with olive oil, then line it with plastic wrap, leaving some overhang.
2. Remove the cardamom seeds from the pods, discard the pods and grind the seeds until fine, either with a mortar and pestle, a spice grinder or by smashing them with the bottom of a heavy saucepan. Add to a large mixing bowl with ¼ cup (30g) of the chopped pistachios, the tahini, vanilla and sea salt and beat until smooth.
3. Place the sugar and ⅓ cup (75ml) water in a medium saucepan; bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Gently swirl the pan as it heats up—do not stir the syrup or the sugar will crystalize. Once it starts to bubble, reduce the heat to low and simmer until you have a thick syrup, 12 to 15 minutes. If you have a candy thermometer, it needs to reach 250°F.
4. When the syrup is ready, add the tahini mixture to the saucepan (you don’t want the mixture to cool down, it needs to stay in the warm saucepan) and quickly beat together to make a smooth paste. This is best done with a wooden spoon or spatula. Try not to overwork it, as this will make the halva crumbly—you only want to beat it for about 30 seconds.
5. As soon as the mixture is smooth and combined, spoon it into the loaf pan and press the remaining pistachios on top. Cool completely. Once cool, cover with the plastic wrap edges and transfer to the fridge to set overnight before serving.