There are very few places in Uttar Pradesh where you still get kali gajar ka halwa. One of those places is the Moti Mahal (restaurant and chaat place) in Hazrat Ganj Lucknow where you get kali gajar ka halwa during winters along with decent malaiyyo, kesar pista doodh and an assortment of other halwas. You can get about a dozen variants of halwa at Moti Mahal, made of lentils, nuts, seeds and carrots of different types. Unfortunately I haven't come across kali gajar ka halwa in Banaras yet.
But I will tell you about Ghazipur, a small town some 75 Km from Banaras which is my maternal grandparents home town. It has been about 2 decades since I went there but we used to go to Ghazipur every summer vacation for at least 2 weeks (back in late 70s and 80s) and I have some great food memories from those days. We visited Ghazipur a few times in winters too when my maternal grandfather was terminally ill and that is the time my memory of kali gajar ka halwa dates back to.
There was this halwai family who used to make all types of murabbas and halwas apart from the regular dry mithais which used to be sent to other parts of the state as much I remember. This was a wealthy halwai family who was in this trade for a few generations, we knew in detail because one of the daughters was my mother's classmate.
So someone was sent to buy kali gajar ka halwa to their workshop and the person came back empty handed saying they haven't made kali gajar ka halwa this season. Everyone in the family was crestfallen and unanimously blamed the family for this act of 'cheating' their customers. The disappointment was grave.
The imminent expectation of the kali gajar ka halwa treat and then the disappointment somehow got imprinted in my mind and every time I would taste a well made kali gajar ka halwa later this incident will replay in my head.
Note that black carrots are quite distinct in their flavour and the halwa recipe needs a little fine tuning if you have been making red carrot halwa all your life.
I tried making it myself a few times, failed a few times and finally learnt how to keep this halwa sweet and pleasant, not causing the milk to get the flavour of the black carrots that makes the halwa weird tasting in my opinion.
While I like the milk to be cooked slowly along with grated red carrots to make my kind of great gajar ka halwa, where the milk gets all the colour and flavours of the red carrots making it sweeter and pleasant. Red carrots are sweet in taste while black carrots, owing to the rich flavonoids and dark coloured pigments, are a little astringent in taste.
So when grated black carrot is cooked with milk slowly for long duration it (the pigments) masks the sweetness of reduced milk and also make it a wee bit astringent which is not a pleasant attribute of a halwa.
So what to do when making kali gajar ka halwa?
Not to worry much, the recipe is still simple you just change the timings of the addition of different ingredients. Also, note that keeping the kali gajar ka halwa a bit rich on ghee helps in absorption of all the pigment goodness (read fat soluble vitamins) so go make this halwa rich and delicious.
1 kilo cleaned peeled and grated black carrots
1 Liter whole milk reduced to make about 200 gm thick evaporated milk (almost like thick rabdi)
300 gm sugar (I use 200 gm)
50-60 gm (2 tbsp) ghee or a little more
chopped nuts for garnish as per choice
almond meal about 100 gm per kilo carrots if you want to make it a tonic breakfast dish
Take a thick base kadhai or pan wide enough to accommodate all the grated carrots and still be convenient enough to stir easily. Heat it over gas stove and smear it generously with the ghee.
Now add all the grated black carrots, keeping the heat high and stir vigorousely for 5 minutes or till the grated carrots wilt a little. Now switch the heat to be medium low and start stirring it every couple of minutes. This will enable the carrots to get a little seared and that somehow locks the flavours in.
You can reduce the milk on the other side simultaneously.
Once the grated black carrot reduces in volume and becomes soft enough to get mashed easily it is time to add the sugar. You can mash the carrots if you want a smooth halwa before adding the sugar or keep the shreds undisturbed like I do. The mixture gets a little watery after adding sugar so cook some more while stirring almost continuously till it becomes glazed and shiny.
Now add the reduced milk, mix well and cook some more to let everything mix together. The reduced milk will get the colour of the cooked black carrots but wont become astringent.
If you intend to add almond meal you can add it along with the reduced milk and cook for 5 more minutes.
All well cooked gajar ka halwa variants stay well for 3-4 days at room temperature (in winter months, north India) and the halwa was always spread in a parat or large thali in my home, nuts were sprinkled over it and the thali was covered and kept either on the dining table or on kitchen platform or in the milk cupboard. Well, it was hidden from our sight most of the times. No one can resist stealing some halwa if it is kept in a visible place.
Now I refrigerate. Now we have lost that habit of stealing such foods and I miss that.
Kali gajar ka halwa is definitely tastier than red carrot halwa if made well. And now you know how to make the kali gajar ka halwa in the right way. It is indeed a tonic food and can be supplemented with a little warming spices if one wants some warmth in harsh winter months.
Kali gajar ka halwa was considered an aphrodisiac too but I am sure the recipe would include some cardamom and nutmeg too for that effect.
Now I know the reason my family felt cheated when kali gajar ka halwa was denied to them one season about 4 decades ago. Food memories are best preserved in our minds I feel, the reason being that food is perceived by our senses so well. More reasons to make the food better for all of us, enjoy food with loved ones and create memories of togetherness.