Black carrots are a winter vegetable only typically grown in North India, particularly Punjab and UP, and drunk, not eaten. That is, their juice is made into Kanji or carrot juice, topped with a sprinkling of rock salt and a spritz of lime juice, and considered both delicious and good for health. But black carrot halwa is an Allahabad delicacy with a rich, luscious taste t it, with a depth of flavour and texture that you just don't get with red carrot halwa.
The grated black carrots look more like a deep, deep purple – almost black but the purple shows through in the sunlight. Just looking at them gets me all excited. I drop the matt black mass of finely grated carrots into a wok and slowly cook them in the ghee. The wonderfully nutty, enticing aroma of ghee fills the house and I take in a deep breath. The grated carrots are glistening in the fat of the ghee and I figure it’s time to add in the full cream milk. I pour it into the wok and pause to marvel at the lovely lilac-mauve colour in the pan.
I add in sugar and watch the tiny crystal cubes shine on the surface of the violet liquid like diamonds on a crown and then slowly dissolve and lose themselves in the mad swirl of the inky mass. It is a slow-cooking process, and you can become completely tranquillized in the repetitive yet occasional movements of stirring the halwa and returning to a contemplative state. I wonder who the primal man was who discovered that these things were good to eat. Fruit one can well imagine attracted attention by their colour and because they were hitting people walking under the trees in their faces, but vegetables, especially those that grow below the ground like carrots? Black coloured vegetables?
It takes a long time for the simmering liquid to slowly evaporate, permeating its richness into the carrots. At long last it is finished, and I stare down at the black mass that promises a lush sensation for the senses. I roast some cashews in ghee and pour them on top of the caviar-ey halwa. They are a nice rust-red contrast to the dark colour which remains a rather inky violet even in the sunlight. The halwa colour reminds me of the tropical night, that magical, mysterious interplay of black and blue.
I have my usual struggle to take pictures that do justice to the dish and finally, finally, we pop some into our mouths. I have waited for this dish the way one waits for a treat – impatiently and yet, when the treat arrives, you approach hesitantly so you can savour the anticipation of its enjoyment for a few moments more. It doesn’t disappoint – the halwa is rich, with a full-bodied flavour that matches the intensity of its colour. I lose myself in the intense dark taste that lingers on my tongue long after the morsel has disappeared down my throat. The texture of the grated carrot which has softened but not melted jostles against the crunchy hardness cashews, and their cheesy sweetness offsets the fruity flavour of the carrots. The unctuous mellowness of the milk solids coats the mouth silkily. The sensation of the halwa on the tongue is luxurious…if Cabernet Sauvignon could be made into a dish, this would be it, I think and reach for another mouthful.