Halawa is a blanket term for a variety of dense, sweet desserts from the Middle East, Mediterranean, eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Derived from the Arabic word for sweet confection or “sweetmeat”, many cultures have their own take on halwa, as well as their own spellings – you may know it as helva, halva, halvah, halwa, halawi. Nonethless, they all mean the same thing: a damn delicious dessert.
A Little History
According to some sources, the first known recipe for halawa can be traced back to the Arabic Kitab al-Tabikh – “The Book of Dishes” – which detailed several different variations. This was around the 13th century – a time during which similar dishes were being created in Spain. One in particular, found in a Spanish cookbook, was made with candy made from boiled sugar, honey, sesame oil and flour, rosewater, and ground pistachios.
Over the next few hundred years, the dish proliferated throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, eastern Europe and Mediterranean, with each region putting their own spin on it. Egyptians favoured pistachios, almonds or pine nuts, while Indians put in ghee, coconuts and dates.
One particular variation, created by chefs working for the Ottoman Empire’s longest- reigning sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566), was made with tahini. And this is the kind that made its way to America and beyond in the early 20th century.
As a confectionary, halawa is actually quite healthy, with a range of benefits for your body. The sesame seeds used to make tahini in halawa are nutritious – high in protein, vitamins and minerals – and have similar immune-boosting, cardiovascular-protective properties to other superfoods like olive oil and walnuts. Tahini is also gluten-free and paleo-friendly! You can read more about the health benefits of tahini here.
There is no better way to top off a great meal than with a tasty dessert and once you have tried Lebanese sweets you will never go back.
Our twist on halawa features a delicious blend of sweet tahini, pistachios and banana enclosed in puff pastry. You can even add vegan chocolate!