The Arabian word ḥalwà is mellifluous enough, rolling off the tongue, to induce fantasies of a Sarayı drenched in moonlight. But learn that the Turkish Şekerpare means "the dancer's bellybutton" and let the imagination roll...Seker Pare are mouth-watering "cookies" if you will, made with fine semolina, baked until golden and then soaked in sweet syrup. The rounded curves of the pastry recall the plump and inviting belly of a belly dancer, the almond in the middle is...the belly button. But no, the pedestrian reality is that Şeker means sugar in Turkish and Pare is the Persian word for "piece". The fantasy version is so much more creative though, isn't it?
As to halva (a popular dessert in both the Middle East, the Balkans and India) I need to point that in Greece we tend to eat both types of halva: the sticky semolina type and the crumbly sesame paste type (made with tahini), what the Jewish call "halvah", though made without the soapwort. But only one of these is made at home, the former, which accounts for the use of "grocer's halvah" appelation that the latter type still retains among the elders; a small quantity bought for the days of Lent ensured ample nutrition for the family. Interestingly, it's the sesame paste type that has been handed down through classical times, a no doubt proof of the fact that adiposity is the path to an ethnos's spiritual ruin. But I digress.
It is the semolina type halva, in various orchestrations/twists, which has marked many wintry afternoons of my childhood, as we stirred with big wooden spatulae, me and my mother, on pots with olive oil and golden dust, to make a yummy dessert which aromatized the whole house with its spicy bouquet. Its super-easy recipe to remember, short-handed into "1:2:3:4", as it calls for one unit of oil, two of semolina, three of sugar and four of water, is etched in my memory.
1 cup of extra virgin olive oil
2 cups of wheat semolina, rough grind
3 cups of white granulated sugar
4 cups of water
2-3 cinnamon sticks
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup pine nuts
Put the oil and semolina in a big pot under slow fire on the stove and stir slowly until golden. Then add the raisins and pine nuts and keep on the stove for a little longer, till the pine nuts are golden too.
In the meantime, get the water to boil with the sugar and the aromatics in another pot. When it's bubbling vigorously, pour slowly into the pot with the semolina, stirring quickly (and carefully, it will bubble and might sprinkle you with hot material!) until thoroughly mixed.
Stir, stir and stir some more over the stove, until it doesn't stick to the pot and most water has seemingly evaporated. Pour over a deep bowl and let it sit covered with a thin napkin (it will still steam a bit and you want as much water evaporated as possible, as this will make it lighter on the stomach). You can then decorate with blanched almonds, shredded walnuts or raisins, sprinkle with grounded cinnamon and serve when cool.
Recipe for Turkish Şekerpare
2 sticks butter at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup fine semolina
2 vanilla pods
Eat at room temperature and keep in an air-tight tin box.
pic of sekerpare via otikatsi-soula.blogspot.com, pic of halva via cretaolympias.gr