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Persian Purim Halva

The halva in the Middle East is a mixture of ground sesame seeds, almonds, or even peanuts and honey; it is best made commercially in huge blocks. This dessert from the Iranian Jews of Meshhed bears a strong similarity to an Indian sweet known as hulwa. The words halva and hulwa simply mean "sweet." The pudding is sent to friends and neighbors as one of the small food gifts customarily exchanged at Purim. The recipe is courtesy of Hannah Levy, formerly of Meshhed.

ingredients

serves 8
2 tablespoons oil
2 cups medium grain rice
4 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon saffron strands
1/2 cup boiling water
pomegranate seeds for garnish

method

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat and fry the rice until it is lightly browned.

2. Transfer to a heavy-based saucepan, add water and all but 1 tablespoon of the sugar, and the spices except saffron.

3. Cook over very low heat, stirring frequently, until mixture is smooth, about 45 minutes.

4. In a bowl, mash the reserved sugar with the saffron and add boiling water.

5. Stir this mixture into the rice and continue to cook, stirring, for 10 minutes.

6. Let cool, then pour into individual bowls and chill.

7. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and serve.

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