As promised in my spotlight ingredient posting on tahini, I’d like to share with you a healthy snack that literally takes a few minutes to prepare. Scratch that – it’s actually pretty much instantaneous. The Middle Eastern sweet treat, halawa (or sometimes called halva), is traditionally made simply by mixing sesame seed paste, or tahini, with sugar. Some variations are made by mixing certain nut butters with sugar. Most Egyptians eat ready-made packaged halawa as a snack, and it can be used as a base for other candies and desserts. You can find it at most Middle Eastern grocery stores. The problem with that kind of halawa is that it’s usually made with refined sugar and tahini mixed with other oils. Instead of wasting your money on a store-bought container of unhealthy halawa, you can make it at home very easily and quickly. All you need is quality raw tahini and a type of honey or molasses. I’ve tried a few combinations, and I’ll share them below. It all depends on what you have on-hand.
Raw light-colored tahini + Raw honey
Recently, I’ve been seriously obsessed with raw honey. As opposed to refined honey, which is typically pasteurized, or heated over 115 degrees Fahrenheit, raw honey is never heated, and therefore retains all of the phytonutrients found naturally in the honey. In fact, if you’re health-conscious like me, then it’ll get you really excited to know that raw honey is one of nature’s sweetest and most nutritious gifts to mankind – here’s some info to satisfy your curiosity. Also, if you suffer from pesky seasonal allergies, you’ll be relieved to learn that local raw honey – sometimes with some of the pollen unfiltered and intact within – can really help heal your allergy: by ingesting a small amount of the pollen allergen found in the air of your local area, your body builds a tolerance for the allergen so that it’s not irritating to your body any longer. Bonus!
Directions: Spread a tablespoon of raw tahini over a piece of fresh, toasted bread (whole-wheat pita or other bread works well). Use a small spoon to scoop out half a teaspoon of raw honey, and use a knife to smooth the honey over the tahini. The result is a lightly (and naturally) sweetened paste, softer than store-bought halawa, but definitely more nutritious.
Raw light-colored tahini + Blackstrap Molasses
When I was a kid in the Middle East, I only knew of two types of honey – ‘white honey’ and ‘black honey’ (the literal translations from Arabic of what we used to call honey and molasses, respectively). I never knew the term ‘molasses’, in the sense that I was unaware that the black honey came from sugar cane, and not from bees! Yes, the term ‘slow as molasses’ comes to mind here … Anyway, I always associated the ‘black honey’ (or molasses) with what gets swirled into tahini; I used to dip into a plate of it at my grandparents’ house in Egypt every summer. So, I had never considered adding ‘white honey’ to tahini … Nutritionally, it turns out that blackstrap molasses has a ton of iron, and a good amount of calcium too – being slightly anemic, blackstrap molasses is actually really helpful in increasing my iron intake naturally (WH Foods).
If you don’t have blackstrap molasses available, you can also use grape molasses. Turks combine grape molasses with tahini in this dish called tahin pekmez, and it is eaten in the same way – dipping bread into it. Or, as Iraqis frequently do, you can use date syrup, called dibis, instead of the blackstrap kind. Keep in mind that date syrup is sweeter than blackstrap molasses, so use less of it to achieve the same sweetening effect. Iraqis also sometimes add a few drops of lemon juice to the tahini and dibis mixture, to add a little tanginess to the snack. The most important thing to keep in mind when purchasing any kind of molasses is to find a type that is unsulphured, in order to ensure that the taste is not bitter and to limit the intake of harmful preservatives.
Directions: If you’re eating it on toast, spread a tablespoon of raw tahini over a piece of fresh, toasted bread (whole-wheat pita or other bread works well). Use a small spoon to measure a teaspoon of blackstrap molasses, and use a knife to smooth the molasses over the tahini. I personally prefer the ‘old-school’ approach of pouring some tahini into a plate, then adding molasses that is about a third of the tahini, and swirling. You can then dip warm pita bread in the mixture and eat. Vary proportions to control the level of sweetness to your taste.
Raw black sesame seed paste (black tahini) + Raw honey
I shared a little bit about my new discovery of black sesame seed butter on my previous tahini post. Like its light-colored counterpart, it’s also made out of sesame seeds, except these are black. The taste is also very similar, but with the particular brand I tried, the black tahini was a little drier and the flavor wasn’t nearly as strong. But coupled with raw honey, black tahini comes alive – it tastes like a sweet treat, but you can eat it without the guilt, because it’s filling and healthy.
Directions: Since it isn’t as oily, spreading it isn’t as easy as regular tahini, but you can still maneuver with a knife to cover the surface area of your toast. I used a little less than a tablespoon, and added half a teaspoon of raw honey on top. Delightful!
Also because it’s not oily, you cannot really “pour” it into a plate with molasses to create the tahini and molasses snack to dip into.
So, there you go – homemade halawa that takes a few seconds to prepare and consume. I often eat is as a great pre-workout or midday snack to keep satiated and healthy. Any of the combinations specified above are the perfect blend of nutty and sweet, a match made in heaven in the world of food, and a classic pairing to be placed among the ranks with peanut butter and jelly. Actually, you could say that tahini and molasses (or honey) combo is the Pb&J of the Middle East. Yes, it’s that serious. Now go try it if you haven’t already!