The traditional Iraqi dessert halawat sha’riyya has been a part of Persian confectionery for a long time and consumed by many even nowadays. The simplicity of generously sweetened thin vermicelli paired with crunchy nuts leads to a heavenly sweet.
What is halawat sha’riyya?
Every cuisine has its own sweet comfort food which can be prepared from store cupboard ingredients, can be ready in no time, is fuss free and is really rewarding. Iraq and the Gulf States definitely have more than one of those, including baklava, kanafeh, umm ali and basboussa, just to mention a few, but halawat sha’riyya is certainly the most quickly achievable among them.
As it is cooked with thin pasta strands, the whole process requires not more than 20 minutes. Containing all the staple Middle Eastern ingredients, it shows off the best side of fragrant nuts and edible flower waters.
What are the different types of pasta used for halawat sha’riyya?
According to the research of cookbook author Nawal Nasrallah, the first mention of sha’riyya was found in a 15th century Syrian cookbook but it is likely that the author referred to a grain-looking pasta, not the long and thin version we know these days.
However, itriya and rishta have been used dried and fresh for countless meals and the latter was already mentioned in the 10th century cookbook, Kitab al-Tabeekh. As some sources claim, rishta was the Persian term for itriya, which is not even in use anymore. Those first noodles were not as fine as today’s version. Indeed, modern technology has allowed for these noodles to be made thinner.
How to make halawat sha’riyya
Fresh and pliable sha’riyya is formed into nests before being dried out, so they need to be broken with the fingers before being fried in melted butter. The pasta strands should remain as long as possible, so the result wouldn’t look like porridge at the end. If noodle nests are not available, it is possible to use pasta sticks and break them. Cut fideo is another alternative, although they are often cut too short.
At first, reach the nutty flavor by browning the butter and the oil, then add the pasta and cook it with water to reach a very soft consistency. Using the mix of butter and oil helps to prevent the butter from burning till it reaches the nutty flavor.
Spices, sugar and crushed walnut pieces are added at the end, so walnuts have time to absorb some liquid and develop a less crunchy texture.
The result should be thick from the starch, sticky from the sugar, so it has to be served piping hot. The leftovers, if any, can be heated up in a covered microwavable dish with a splash of water to steam it up.
What are the typical spices of halawat sha’riyya?
The walnut mixed into the softened pasta, provides characteristic flavor for halawat sha’riyya, as does the caramelized sugar. Green cardamom is added to the dish as a distinctive spice, but rose water and orange blossom water are the real thing, to elevate this dessert into a fragrant sweetness. Pistachio looks nice with its vivid green color and adds some crunchiness to the whole dish.
What are the versions of halawat?
There are other sweets with the name halawa, however the only common thing is the sugar syrup for soaking them. Halawet el Jibn is a Levantine dessert called sweet cheese roll. Using a stringy kind of cheese (such as mozzarella) mixed with polenta, it is rolled out, filled, then rolled back up with clotted cream, cut into bite sized pieces and decorated with pistachio and rose petal jam.
Halawat timman is a rice pudding, and has a similar method of making as Indian halwa.
This recipe is validated by our expert in Iraqi cuisine Nawal Nasrallah. An award-winning researcher and food writer, Nawal is the author of the definitive cookbook on the Iraqi cuisine Delights from the Garden of Eden.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 6 oz. wheat vermicelli noodles (sold in nests)
- 2 cups hot water
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1¼ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 tablespoon rose water
- 4 tablespoons crushed walnuts
- 2 tablespoons ground pistachios
- Melt the butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.
Lightly crush the noodle nests (or balls) between the fingers and add them to the pan, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes or until they are golden brown.
- Carefully pour hot water over and season with salt.
- Mix and bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat and simmer covered on low to medium heat, until the noodles begin to soften, 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add sugar, cardamom, rose water and walnuts.
- Stir until the sugar crystals dissolve.
Simmer over low to medium heat and cover, stirring 2 or 3 times, until the water is absorbed, the vermicelli are shiny and the sugar begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, or between 12 and 15 minutes.
- Immediately, spread the vermicelli on a flat plate by smoothing with the back of a spoon.
- Sprinkle with a generous pinch of ground pistachios.
- Serve hot.
Leftovers can be refrigerated and heated for 1 minute in the microwave.