Poosanikai halwa or Kasi halwa, represents a classic South Indian dessert crafted from ash gourd, sugar, and ghee, jazzed up with the fragrant duo of cardamom and saffron. Served as part of the wedding feast, this poosanikai halwa has my heart.
Ash gourd goes by alternative names like white pumpkin or winter melon. In Malayalam, we call it kumbalanga and poosanikai in Tamil. I already introduced winter melon through the bong dish, chal kumaro diye muger dal recipe which is a flavourful side for rotis and rice! Can you believe this humble gourd can turn into a delicious warm dessert perfect for those chilly winter days? Pretty cool, right?
I made this halwa during the initial lockdown days when routine had gone topsy-turvey with no clarity about the future. Like most of you, I took comfort in food. My tastebuds dived right into wedding halls as a child holding my mom's pallu walking to a hall filled with lengthy dining tables. They lay out banana leaves, which mom wipes clean using water from the tumbler. And then came the array of dishes one by one... I was only looking forward to Payasam and then this orangish poosanikai halwa.
This is my humble attempt to recreate the childhood memories of numerous Kalyana mandap sapaddu (wedding feast) halwa that my mom willingly shared with me. 😛
Here's what you'll need for some tasty ash gourd halwa:
- ash gourd
- cardamom powder
- saffron strands
- optional: yellow or orange food colour
The ingredients for this poosanikai halwa are simple but for any simple recipe the technique matters! Luckily, there's no need to worry about nailing that 'syrup consistency' trick with this recipe! 🤣 You're in the clear as long as you steer clear of one major slip-up: adding sugar before the ash gourd gets its full cook-on. If that happens, there's no way to rescue it.
Remove the skin and any seed parts of the gourd. Then grate the ash gourd using a grater so that it is even. Resist the temptation to toss it into the processor or mixie, or you might end up with a juicy mess.
Heat some of the ghee in a non-stick kadai or saucepan over medium flame. Fry the cashews until they turn golden brown, remove and keep aside for later.
Toss in the grated ash gourd and continue sautéing until all the water evaporates and the ash gourd turns wonderfully soft and fully cooked. Remember, this step needs some patience, so don't rush by cranking up the heat.
But adding water shouldn't be a problem if it dries up before reaching the fully cooked stage. Hold off on introducing sugar until you're certain that the grated ash gourd has achieved complete doneness. Just take a tiny taste test to be sure! Patience is key here. 😉🕒
Once you've confirmed the thorough cooking of grated ash gourds (which took me over 30 minutes), you're good to grab the sugar. Stir in the sugar, cardamom powder, turmeric powder for colour or a few saffron strands. Keep stirring until all the sugar melts and the halwa thickens.
Add any remaining ghee. You may add more ghee if you find it dry. Taste and add more sugar if required. Continue stirring the halwa on low to medium flame until it starts leaving the pan's sides. Stir in the fried cashews and transfer to the serving bowl. Serve warm or cold.
Substitutions and Variations
If you're up for some experimentation, here are a few substitutions you could try for the poosanikai (ash gourd) halwa recipe:
- If you can't find ash gourd, try using pumpkin or butternut squash. They have a similar texture and can work well.
- Make it vegan or replace ghee with coconut oil. It'll bring a unique twist to the flavour.
- Instead of regular sugar, you can use other sweeteners like stevia or ground jaggery.
- Cashews are traditional, but sunflower seeds or chopped pistachios could bring their charm.
- A grated to grate the ash gourd.
- A heavy-bottomed kadai or wok preferably non-stick or stainless steel to cook the halwa.
- A wooden or silicone spoon for stirring the halwa as it cooks.
If you've got some leftover ash gourd halwa (which is highly unlikely), here's what you can do to keep it tasting delicious: Pop the halwa in an airtight container and store it in the refrigerator. It should stay good for around 3-4 days. A touch of milk or water while reheating can help bring back the desired consistency.
Looking for recipes using gourd vegetables?
Poosanikai Halwa | Ash Gourd Pudding
- 3 to 4 tablespoons ghee
- 10 to 12 whole cashews split
- 2 to 3 cups ash gourd grated
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon cardamom powder
- 1 pinch turmeric powder for colour
- 1 pinch saffron crushed
- water if required
- Heat some of the ghee in a non-stick kadai or saucepan over medium flame.3 to 4 tablespoons ghee
- Fry the cashews until they turn golden brown, remove and keep aside for later.10 to 12 whole cashews
- Add the grated ash gourd and continue sautéing until all the water evaporates, and is cooked through. Please note that this step requires time, so it's advisable not to rush by increasing the heat. However, if you notice that the mixture is drying up before getting cooked, feel free to add a bit of water. It's important to refrain from adding sugar until you have complete certainty that the grated ash gourd has been fully cooked. You can do taste test by sampling a small portion.2 to 3 cups ash gourd
- Stir in the sugar, cardamom powder, turmeric powder (if using) and a few saffron strands. Keep stirring until all the sugar melts and the halwa thickens. Add any remaining ghee. You may add more ghee if you find it dry. Taste and add more sugar if required.¾ cup sugar, ¼ teaspoon cardamom powder, 1 pinch turmeric powder, 1 pinch saffron, water
- Continue stirring the halwa on low to medium flame until it starts to leave the sides of the pan.
- Stir in the fried cashews and transfer to the serving bowl. Serve warm or cold.