Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

A Pumpkin Halwa That Will Change how You Feel About Squash

by 
Sucheta Rawal
November 11, 2021

When I entered my suburban apartment kitchen, the once bare white walls were covered with stringy orange slime. It looked like a chaotic scene from Ghostbusters. But these were pumpkin fibers, not viscous green psycho-reactive slime. And there were no ghosts. Just my own mom and grandma attempting to make pumpkin halwa for Thanksgiving. 

Perhaps my imagination was stretched by my newly found love for scary Hollywood films. At 17 years of age, I had moved from India to the United States and now had access to 24 hours of cable television. 

It was October in Atlanta. There were pumpkins all over the grocery stores, pumpkin lattes at coffee shops, and pumpkin cheesecakes at restaurants. I never even knew there were so many ways to eat pumpkin.

Growing up in northern India, fall weather indicated fresh whole pumpkins were available in the market, so we made pumpkin halwa, and lots of it. Only the spectacle in my Indian kitchen looked very different.

Back in the state of Punjab, we had a small kitchen tugged away in the back corner of our two-story house. Our housekeeper arrived early in the morning, and started the tedious process of cutting and peeling giant-sized pumpkins (I never heard about pie pumpkins until I moved to the U.S.). For the entire day, she simmered gallons of milk that the milkman dropped off that morning.

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My grandma, who orchestrated the menu each day, told me that she had learned the recipe while attending college in Lahore (now in Pakistan). She probably picked it up from one her personal chefs. As a pioneer woman of her times, her focus was more on education than home economics: even after she got married and had kids, she left most of the domestic chores to her half a dozen servants, while she organized charitable events and social clubs. When she did enter the kitchen, it was with the command of a head chef, to add the right balance of spices, taste the sauces, and approve the plates going into the dining room. 

Now, my grandma just had me (a teenage novice in the kitchen), and mom (a former Bollywood actress), as her helping hands. It was the first time that the three generation of women were cooking together. The first time we made pumpkin halwa as immigrants. 

We each took turns cutting through the hard skin, scraping the gooey stringy interior, and grating the flesh by hand, creating a huge mess - we laughed at our own skills, or lack thereof. We argued about why we decided to cook this recipe in the first place (my mom didn’t even like pumpkins). The entire process took hours, but the memories lasted a lifetime.  

Until she passed, my grandma continued to prepare the pumpkin halwa every fall, and froze it until I visited her in India (generally once a year). But now, I prepare this all by myself, savoring the memories with each bite. 

Holiday Pumpkin Halwa

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Serves 6

Ingredients

1 1/2 lbs whole pumpkin

5 cups whole milk

8-10 cardamom pods (or 1 tsp cardamom powder)

1 inch cinnamon stick

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 tbsp ghee (or unsalted butter)

2 tbsp blanched chopped almonds

2 tbsp dried green or black raisins

1/4 tsp saffron strands

1/2 tsp salt

 | 
 | 
Serves 6

Ingredients

1 1/2 lbs whole pumpkin

5 cups whole milk

8-10 cardamom pods (or 1 tsp cardamom powder)

1 inch cinnamon stick

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 tbsp ghee (or unsalted butter)

2 tbsp blanched chopped almonds

2 tbsp dried green or black raisins

1/4 tsp saffron strands

1/2 tsp salt

Ingredients

1 1/2 lbs whole pumpkin

5 cups whole milk

8-10 cardamom pods (or 1 tsp cardamom powder)

1 inch cinnamon stick

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 tbsp ghee (or unsalted butter)

2 tbsp blanched chopped almonds

2 tbsp dried green or black raisins

1/4 tsp saffron strands

1/2 tsp salt

Directions

1. In a large deep pot, bring the milk to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer.

2. Using a sharp knife, cut the whole pumpkin in half. Scrape out the seeds and strings with a spoon, and discard. Peel the pumpkin skin and reserve the flesh in a separate bowl. Grate the flesh in a food processor.

3. Add shredded pumpkin and cardamom seeds (removed from green pods) to the milk and simmer for approximately 2 hours, stirring occasionally to incorporate the foaming cream. Do not let the milk stick to the bottom of the pan or it will burn.

4. Once the milk is complete absorbed and the pumpkin has a puree texture, add the brown sugar. Continue to stir till the sugar dissolves (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside.

5. In a wok, on medium-high heat, warm the ghee. Once the ghee is piping hot, fry the cinnamon stick and almonds for 1 minute. Then add the pumpkin mixture, raisins and saffron, and fry for another 5-10 minutes until it starts to lightly brown and thicken. Remove from heat and serve warm.

6. Store remaining halwa in refrigerator for up to a week or freeze in an air tight container. Reheat to serve.

About the Author

Sucheta Rawal

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