Sweet Treats for Lent: Halvas and Koulourakia

March 22, 2021

During the fasting period of Great Lent, traditional Greek desserts highlight classic Greek flavors, including honey, cinnamon, and nuts. Try the following recipes which are relatively simple to prepare for a sweet treat during the fasting season.

Halvas is a versatile traditional dessert made with semolina, simigdali, durum wheat, and usually cooked on the stovetop. Made with oil, it is a nistisimo dessert, appropriate for those fasting from animal products during Lent. The following recipe includes almonds, but pine nuts, walnuts or toasted, chopped hazelnuts may also be used as preferred.

Halvas with Semolina

2 cups semolina (coarse ground durum wheat)

5 cups water

2 cups sugar

2 tablespoons Greek honey

1 cinnamon stick

5-7 whole cloves

Two-inch strip orange peel

1 cup Greek extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup blanched almonds, chopped or sliced as preferred

Ground cinnamon for dusting

Sliced almonds for decorating

For the syrup, in a large, deep pot, boil the water, sugar, honey, cinnamon stick, whole cloves and orange peel for about five minutes, reduce heat. Meanwhile, heat the cup of oil in a large sauté pan until it shimmers, reduce heat to medium. Add the semolina, stirring with a wooden spoon and cook until it absorbs the oil and colors lightly or as golden as you prefer. Add the almonds and cook until they too are toasted and lightly colored. Remove the cinnamon stick, whole cloves and the peel from the syrup and add the toasted semolina and nuts to the pot. Stir until the syrup is absorbed and the mixture no longer sticks to the sides of the pot or to the wooden spoon. Switch off the heat and cover the pot with a clean kitchen towel and the lid of the pot. Let stand for 15-20 minutes. Remove the lid and the kitchen towel and transfer the halva to a tube pan or Bundt cake mold and press in with a rubber spatula. Unmold onto a serving plate and sprinkle with a little ground cinnamon and decorate with additional sliced almonds. Alternatively, after the halva has rested in the pot, it may be transferred to custard cups and unmolded onto dessert plates for individual servings dusted with cinnamon and decorated with sliced almonds as above. Allow the halva to cool completely before slicing and serving. Pine nuts or a mixture of walnuts or almonds and pine nuts, or toasted, chopped hazelnuts, can be substituted for the almonds.

Koulourakia Methismena (Drunken Cookies)

3 and 1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon Greek sea salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 cup Greek extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup sweet red wine, Mavrodaphne

1/4 cup cognac, Metaxa

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, wine, cognac, and the vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until just combined. Take a scant tablespoon of the dough, roll into strips, and then form circles, twists, or other cookie shapes. Place on ungreased cookie sheets and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes until the cookies are lightly golden brown, rotating the pans about halfway through the baking. Cool completely on wire racks before serving or storing in an airtight container or cookie jar.


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