Halwa, or spiced candy (Somalia)

Located in the Horn of Africa, Somalia is sadly nowadays best known internationally for wars, refugees, pirates, famines and female circumcision. The country has a very long history, dating to the Paleolithic age, and used to be a prosperous nation in antiquity. The people used to trade with Indians in particular, making big money with cinnamon. Islam arrived to Somalia very early on. Camels originate from the region and remain very important, with 80 % of the population being nomads. Music and literature have been crucial parts of Somali culture, as is incense. Myrrh and frankincense are also major exports. Population growth is extremely high, but fortunately HIV prevalence is low. One threat Somalia currently faces is desertification. It has very little arable land and temperatures are some of the hottest in the world.

I have a bit of personal relationship with Somalia, as I translated a Somali learning textbook from English into Finnish in 2010. Sadly I’ve forgotten pretty much everything (it is a very difficult language anyway, though has some unexpected similarities with Finnish).

The Somali cuisine is heavily Muslim, so no pork is alcohol is served and all meat must be halal. Indian spice trading influences are still clearly felt, with spices like cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves used a lot, as well as the more unusual sage. Sambuusa is a salty pastry similar to Indian samosa and sabayad is a flatbread resembling Indian paratha. There are also influences from e.g. Ethiopia, Middle East, Turkey and Italy. Canjeero is a spongy pancake-like bread like Ethiopian injera, but traditionally made from sorghum. Polenta and pasta are also popular. Other popular ingredients include e.g. goat and camel meat, fish, ghee (clarified butter), peanuts, coconut, bananas and beans, especially adzuki beans. Both lunch and breakfast are important meals. Some savory dishes are flavored with sugar or honey. Various fruit juices may be served at meals.

Xalwo, xalwad, halwa, halwo or halwad is a popular Somali candy. This recipe was very vague, so I don’t know if the result was what it was supposed to be. At least it was much thinner than in the original picture. It was quite jelly-like, but apparently it is supposed to be. Not really my cup of tea because of the texture. I usually write my own instructions, but here I’m using the original instructions as I don’t know if I’ve intepreted them correctly. I only made 1/4 of the recipe, which still makes plenty.


Somali halwa

1 cup/2.4 dl water
1/2 cup/1.2 dl sugar
1/2 cup/1.2 dl light brown sugar
1/4 cup/0.6 dl corn starch + 1/8 cup/0.3 dl water
1/4 cup/0.6 dl oil
1/4 tsp ground cloves (or nutmeg)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
pinch saffron powder

Bring the sugar and the water to boil. Mix cornstarch and water with the saffron, allow it to dissolve. Add the cornstarch to the mixture. Cook the mixture over medium heat while stirring. As the mixture turns thick, start adding oil. This might take about 30 minutes.

Continue adding oil when it sticks to the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring until the mixture gets separated. When it starts to leave the sides of the pan add cardamom and cloves. Put the halwa on a baking sheet. Let cool. Cut into squares and serve.

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