One of the most revered and adapted sweet dishes in the Indian subcontinent and the greater Asian mainland is the Halwa – a full-of-ghee fudge, cooked to perfection in milk, and constituting innovative base ingredients that range from lentils to nuts and even vegetables. One such atypical recipe of Halwa popular in many North Indian states is the Doodhi Halwa, a sweetmeat made with an unexpected twist of the bottle gourd or calabash. Just like the vegetable has an entire trove of names in the different countries it is grown in, the Halwa prepared from it has innumerable aliases, including the Doodhi Halwa, though the more common identity is the Lauki Halwa, stemming from the Hindi term for the produce.
To the nation’s Hindu community, the Doodhi Halwa ventures beyond simple daily platters and holds a position of major religious significance as a compulsory serving on days of fasting like Navratri and Ekadashi. The preparation begins by finely grating a peeled bottle gourd and squeezing the thin strands of any trace of water. The Doodhi is then sauteed in a pan of hot ghee (clarified butter) and removing all remaining water, mixed with full-fat milk on low flame and with constant stirring. Once the milk thickens, sweeteners are added, followed by raisins, and the final touch of chopped nuts as exquisite toppings.
Though the exact origin of the Doodhi Halwa is still left undiscerned, there is an age-old debate among the most plausible contestants - Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, and Maharashtra. The vegetable in itself is one of the oldest domesticated products in the world, dating back 10000 years of Asian history and at least 4000 years of socio-cultural changes on the African mainland. No wonder, the bottle gourd finds representation in many global dishes and has evidently become a part of the traditional Middle Eastern preparation Halwa.
In her book Feasts and Fasts, Colleen Taylor Sen argues that Halwa, the dessert enigma form Arabia, arrived in India by means of Persian influence during the Delhi Sultanate and had the most lasting impact on ancient Karachi and Kozhikode. There are some though, who believe that Halwa is an essentially Turkish creation, having originated in the era of Suleiman, the longest-reigning monarch of the Ottoman Empire. A local reimagination of this historic recipe, the Doodhi Halwa truly blends a fine mixture of tradition and cookhouse innovation.