Food & Wine

Sweet carrot dish bridges two holiday cultures

Courtesy of Gitika BavejaCarrots and cardamom combine sweet and savory flavors in halwa, a treat suited for Indian Diwali and American Thanksgiving.

Celebrating holidays and festivals, whether secular or religious, has always been an important part of Indian culture. The Indo-American community in the United States celebrates festivities here with the same vigor and zeal they would back home. The Indian equivalent of Thanksgiving, Diwali, celebrated last month, captures elements that mark winter holidays for people of every faith and ethnic origin.

Diwali is a festival of lights, symbolizing the victory of righteousness and the lifting of spiritual darkness. Like Thanksgiving in America, the holiday season in India has always been a time to share joy, be thankful and show gratitude for what we have.

Indians prove that even though they are diverse in every way, they are unified when sharing traditions and the simple joys of life – giving to the not-so-fortunate and, of course, enjoying good food. Diwali, like Thanksgiving, is typically celebrated at home with a substantial feast.

Delicious food is an integral part of the holiday season and can add a magical touch to family celebrations. For Indians, holidays are synonymous with sumptuous, elaborate meals, preparations for which begin several days in advance. It takes several days to ready the sweets, snacks and savories that typically mark the holidays in an Indian-American household, but some of my favorite dishes don't require such excessive labors.

Whatever we choose to do during the holidays, it's important to make it carefree and enjoy time with family. So, if you feel like relaxing beside the fire with a cup of hot chai or cocoa after enjoying a cozy family get-together, then this recipe for a comforting carrot halwa could make a perfect sweet treat for a holiday night. Halwa is an all-time classic Indian sweet similar to a pudding.

Low-fat sweet carrot halwa

2 cups grated carrots

2 cups low-fat, nonfat or soy milk

1/4 cup brown sugar, or more, to taste

1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder

3-4 whole cardamom pods

6-7 tablespoons olive oil or canola oil

Pistachios, chopped and unsalted, and raisins to garnish

Wash and grate carrots. Cook shredded carrots with milk and cardamom pods on medium heat until carrots start to soften and milk is absorbed. Make sure carrots do not begin to burn. Add oil, sugar and cardamom powder and keep stirring until halwa starts to form a reddish-brown glaze. Garnish with chopped pistachios and raisins.

Serve hot, with scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Gitika Baveja is a cookbook author and Indian food enthusiast. For more information, visit

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