This post marks Day 9 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.
I find it really interesting that the Christmas season is supposed to be about the birth of Christ, and yet modern-era Christmas celebrations don't feature anything that calls to mind the early Christian-era foods... that is, the foods of the Middle East.
Rather than eating something like pita with hummus and baba ganoush or a Moroccan Stew or Spiced Ground Lamb, we feast on roasted turkey or baked hams for the holidays.
To remedy this obvious oversight in our holiday celebrations, today's advent calendar features an ancient recipe.
Halvah, an earthy-sweet sesame treat, has been common in the Middle East through time immemorial, so I feel confident that Jesus himself must have encountered it at some point during his journeys.
In my own childhood, I knew only the marbled sesame halvah that my dad liked so much, but a little research revealed that people make halvah with a wide variety of nuts, fruits, roots and grains.
The buttery Indian pudding known as sooji ka halwa is a common halvah variation. In fact, halwa in Arabic simply indicates a sweet of some kind. Fascinating!
I've seen recipes that include flour, which sounds pretty unappealing. I decided to go with a simple multi-nut halvah recipe made with milk and honey (synonymous with ancient luxury) for maximum holiday decadence.
Depending on your preferences, you could surely substitute other nuts or skip them altogether.
I'm also using a little vanilla here, but if you want to go crazy with authenticity, just omit it.
Pistachio-Almond Halvah (Makes a 9" x 3" slab)
1 cup sesame paste (tahini)
1/3 cup honey
1/2 Tbsp vanilla (optional)
1 1/4 cups powdered milk
1/2 cup toasted almonds, chopped
1/2 cup pistachios, chopped
1. Combine the tahini, honey, vanilla and powdered milk until well blended. The mixture should be very dry.
2. Fold in the almonds and pistachios.
3. Pack the mixture very firmly into an 9" by 3" cake pan, or a pan of similar size.
4. Use knife to loosen the edges of the halvah, and turn the slab onto a tray or platter. Refrigerate until firm (at least 2 hours) before cutting into thin slices to serve.
Jesus probably would've had wine mixed with water or maybe an infusion of herbs alongside his halvah, but thanks to the wonders of global trade, we can enjoy ours with coffee or tea.