Sometimes, a particular dish can be so memorable that it sticks with you for a long long time. I had this dessert one time when I was around seven or eight years old. We were spending the summer in Lebanon. During the cool summer nights in the mountains, cousins and relatives get together and spend hours talking, laughing and joking around. That time, we were all at my mom’s cousin, Sun, who is renown for her desserts (with a specialty in the traditional ones). She had been in the kitchen for a while and then came out with a large bowl of Mahdawiye and a couple of stacks of serving bowls, to which everyone gasped and cheered. Mahdawiye is a very old, traditional dessert, and possibly only known in certain villages. The origins are not really clear, but my brief research indicates that it could have been borrowed from India during the Islamic rule. It’s a close cousin to the Indian Halwa or Halva, using cornstarch instead of semolina.
My parents were visiting this week, and mom and I spent a good portion of the time in the kitchen experimenting and talking about food, and shooting the swarms of beautiful butterflies around the Lantanas in the garden. I mentioned this recurrent memory and she quickly said: “Let’s do it”. A short while later, we were enjoying this very fragrant, crumbly halwa-type dessert. It requires very few ingredients and is quite easy to make (with a little patience). A dough is made out of them, them dried in a skillet, then crumbled into tiny balls, which used to be done by hand. We took a shortcut and used the processor. This recipe is courtesy of my mom. I hope you try it ’cause I know you will enjoy it.
Fragrant Halwa with Nuts and Raisins or Mahdawiye
1 cup cornstarch
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup grape molasses
1 tbsp butter ghee or melted butter
1 tbsp orange blossom water
Toasted pine nuts (for garnish)
Raw crumbled pistachios (for garnish)
Raisins (for garnish)
In a non-stick pot, mix together cornstarch, sugar, molasses, orange blossom water and water. Place on medium heat, and continue diluting and stirring until all ingredients are melted and form a homogeneous liquid. Once liquid gets hot, it will begin to clump together, keep stirring until it forms a dough. Reduce heat to low and continue stirring and folding the dough on itself until it dries and becomes less glossy. Take off heat and let cool. Once cooled, place in a processor and pulse about 10-12 times until the result is small crumbles the size of peas or smaller. Serve with a generous amount of nuts and raisins.