The art of making halwa with nuts was introduced in India during the Moghul period by the traders from the Middle East and Asia Minor. It is the Indian cooks, however, who are credited with making halwa by using vegetables such as carrots, pumpkin, zucchini, snake squash, winter melon, potatoes, and yams. This glazed carrot halwa, a specialty of the Sikhs of Punjab, is the most popular halwa in India and is enjoyed as a dessert as well as a sweet. Traditionally it is made with milk fudge (khoya), but I substitute ricotta cheese combined with dry milk and butter, which is quicker and produces just as good a result. For 12 to 16 persons:
3 sticks (3/4 pound) sweet butter
3/4 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
3/4 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds
2 tbsp. chopped pistachios 6 cups packed shredded or grated carrots (2 1/2
9 tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
Melt 1 stick (8 tbsp.) of the butter in a skillet. Add the ricotta and dry milk, mix it in, and cook over medium-high heat to a thick paste (about 15 minutes), stirring constantly. Transfer the mixture to a small plate and set aside. Wipe the skillet clean and add 2 tbsp. of the butter along with the almonds. Cook over medium-high heat until the almonds turn light golden (about 2 minutes), turning and tossing constantly. Drain the almonds on paper towels and set aside for garnish. Add the pistachios to the same skillet and cook until they become crisp (about 1 minute). Drain the pistachios on paper towels and set aside separately.
Wipe the skillet clean and add 1 stick (8 tbsp.) butter and place over medium-high heat. When the butter melts, add carrots and stir-fry until they are will coated with butter. Reduce heat to medium or medium- low, cover, and cook for 8 minutes or until the carrots are cooked but not mushy. Add sugar and cardamom and cook until the carrots are glazed (about 5 minutes), stirring constantly.
Blend in the milk-cheese paste and continue cooking and adding the remaining 6 tbsp. of butter in small portions, until the halwa looks thick and glazed (12 - 15 minutes). Turn off the heat and stir in the pistachios. The halwa can be made ahead and kept refrigerated for up to 1 week.
To serve: Heat the halwa and put on an attractive serving dish and pat it down with a metal spatula. Garnish the halwa with almonds. The halwa has the consistency of a thick, moist pudding. Therefore, serve scooped into individual dessert plates with a spoon.