Guest Post: Jessica Moore, Bint Rhoda’s Kitchen
Halaweh, (also called halawa, halwa, halva) is a dense, sweet, nutty-tasting confection, made with many variations throughout the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and eastern Europe. It is a fudge made with tahini, or sesame paste, mixed with sugar that has been boiled to the hard-rock stage, and then formed into a block. You can find a number of flavors of halaweh in Middle Eastern grocers, including plain, chocolate, or pistachio.
But as a young girl, when I first encountered it while visiting my relatives in Bethlehem, I was mystified.
What is it, my sister and I asked shyly, when my cousins excitedly gathered around the kitchen, clamoring for a piece of the treat my aunt was offering.
Halaweh, they said, patiently for their foreign cousins. Here, try some! A crumbly piece was pressed into my hand.
But what is it? I asked.
It’s hilweh, they said, describing it with an Arabic word I was familiar with: sweet. My mother reassured me, telling me that it was made with tahini, tasted like peanut butter, nutty and sweet. I was used to brightly colored candies, wrapped with foil or paper, so this tan rectangle of crumbly fudge, sliced off a block, seemed strange to me. My sister and I nibbled our pieces, and then smiled, while our cousins circled us.
Mmmmm, we said. Halaweh is sweet!
And sweet it is, especially now that I have found a lighting-fast, wholesome version of this treat!
The recipe that I am sharing with you today is a simple five-minute, no-cook version of this Middle Eastern sesame fudge that has all of the goodness of the treat, without any of the sugar. Yes, no sugar! The traditional halaweh I grew up with was so sweet that today I find it cloying. Instead of sugar, I used a few spoonfuls of raw honey to make this batch, and I find the rich floral sweetness of honey to be a beautiful complement to the nutty creaminess of the tahini. This five-ingredient fudge takes only a few moments to stir together, so in the time it takes to make a sandwich, you can have a creamy, sweet-salty treat, full of wholesome ingredients. I like the addition of pistachios on top, not only because they are a traditional addition, but because I like firm crunch of a nut with the creaminess of the fudge.
No time to refrigerate? Just stir up the first four ingredients and eat by the spoon. This would also make a tasty sandwich spread (think Middle Eastern PB&J), or even delicious dip (try tart, green apple slices, or some sweet carrot sticks). And if you want an even faster take on these flavors, check out our other post on homemade halawa, and learn how to combine various honeys, tahinis and molasses for other tempting sandwich spreads.
One more exciting bonus about this treat: it avoids common allergens, so that almost anyone can enjoy this little treat. It is naturally gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, sugar-free, soy-free, vegan, and if you omit the pistachios on top, nut-free as well.
Why Raw Honey
Honey is a sacred food in traditional cultures, and recognized both for its healing properties and its luxurious sweetness. Honey was always seen as a gift from God (or the gods), as it is a sign of the lush bounty of nature, the good things of life, and for much of history, was the sweetest food a person could savor.
Today, we understand its healing properties a little better. Raw honey, as our ancestors ate it, is unheated, and unpasteurized, unstrained and unfiltered. Because of this, it is a living food, full of trace minerals, antioxidants, enzymes, and has antifungal, antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. Raw honey has many medicinal uses – as a cough suppressant or throat soother, as a topical ointment for a wide variety of skin maladies, cuts and scrapes, and as a treatment for seasonal allergies. Ingesting trace amount of pollen in unfiltered honey can, over time, reduce a person’s immune-response. It is also a great energy booster, since it contains both glucose, which metabolizes quickly, and fructose, which metabolizes more slowly. In fact, I will forever be grateful for honey’s sweet energy, because a few teaspoons were the only thing I could hold down during a long and difficult labor, but just that little bit did give me enough of an energy boost to push through to the end.
For this halaweh recipe, you can certainly use any honey that you have on hand. Since the recipe calls for very few ingredients, though, the purity (or otherwise) of the ingredients will effect the final taste. If you can get your hands on raw honey, this is one lovely way to include it in your diet, as this recipe does not require you to heat the honey.