Two of my favorite desserts and . . . they are both Indian !!

October 31st, 2012

As a child growing up in Hyderabad, my favorite dessert was puran poli and Aai would make enough to last a few days, or so she thought!

Puran poli was my lunch, it was also my ‘afternoon tea’ and yes, you guessed it, dinner was definitely PP!! PP was over and done with in 2 days!

This routine lasted for nearly two decades and then, when I started working at the Taj in the early 80’s in Delhi, I had the privilege of  working in the ‘cold kitchen’. This was the place where all the salads, the cold cuts, the terrines, the patés, and the vegetable carvings, were created and I loved every bit of my “stay” in that kitchen.

But there was one more reason why I really enjoyed the garde manger. Because it was here that all the gulab jamoons, and the rosogullas, and the chum chums, and the gajar ka halwa would be stored for all the functions that were to take place on a given day. What heaven!

It had a very large cool room. So, just before my training started every afternoon my job was to clean the cool room and rearrange it.
This is what I looked forward to as I cleaned (in both senses of the word, or ‘polished off’ is perhaps more fitting!): I wolfed down three gulab jamoons on entry, three more half way through the cleaning process, and maybe a few more just before leaving the cool room.

Truptir bhavathi! This Sanskrit term, meaning happy and content, was me in that cool room. After my dessert snacks I was now ready to start my training in the garde manger!! This routine lasted for nearly a year!! (And no, folks, my waistline didn’t suffer as I was working so hard elsewhere, cleaning a garde manger, even with my little, sweet sustenances it was all burned off!)

I then moved to Bangalore and got hooked on mishti doi and sandesh made by none other than KC Das.
On my day off from work the sequence was: lunch at “The Only Place”, followed by mishti doi and sandesh at KC Das. The evening was spent at the “Ramada Pub”.

There was no money left over for any dinner after this, or for any. . .!! What a diet!

Well, as I moved up the ladder at the Taj and was given more responsibilities this meant that my dessert eating diminished and my days off became non-existent, so I simply had no time for any of the above!

I started to enjoy the in-house mithai made by none other than my friend, Mittan Lal. He was more of a ‘savoury’ halwai who was superb at making samosas, kachoris, and other ‘tea-time’ snacks.

His repertoire of Indian sweets, I believe, was restricted to simple ones such as gulab jamoon and gajar ka halwa until this halwai from Gwalior made kesar pista kulfi and moong dal halwa for a wedding reception and, boy!, I am still addicted to this amazing combination of a ‘hot’ pudding served with the best hand-made ice-cream on the planet!

So, here is the step-by-step recipe of moong dal halwa, my way!

moong dal halwa

[Okay, we all know, it’s known as halwa in the north, sheera in the centre and pongal in the south and halva, here, in downtown Sydney, anyway, whatever it’s known as locally it’s still fabulous and served with that kulfi, out of this world!!]


:1.  150 g moong dal
2.  150 ml milk (full-fat)
3.  100 g sugar (I prefer to use raw sugar)
4.  100 g ghee (and if you really feel like cooking, here’s my recipe for ghee!)
5.  1/2 g saffron threads
6.  1 tsp freshly ground green cardamom pods
7.  2 tbs slivered almonds, roasted in a moderate oven till golden

ingredients from left to right: moong dal soaked in water, ghee, sugar, green cardamom pods, saffron, almonds & milk (centre)

grind the cardamom pods with a spoonful of sugar

you should have a fine powder that looks like this

slice the almonds into thin slivers

roast in the oven, or in a pan, over medium heat till golden & crunchy


1.  Soak the moong dal (mung lentils) in 4 cups of water for about 4 hours.

soaked & drained moong dal

2.  Then drain and grind them to a semi-coarse, semolina-like, consistency.

you know the dal is ready for grinding when you can pinch it in half with your fingers

grind to a fine paste in a blender

the ground moong dal should look like this

3.  Heat the ghee in a thick-bottomed pan and let it come almost to smoking point, then add the ground dal, reduce the heat and start cooking till it is almost caramelised and smells ‘sweet’ and turns golden.

add ghee to a thick-bottomed pan

allow it to reach smoking point

add the ground dal, stirring constantly

cook the dal gently over medium heat

as the dal cooks, it starts to caramelise

the ghee starts to bubblet

4.  In another thick-bottomed pan, bring the milk to a boil, add the sugar and let dissolve. Add the saffron and infuse. Keep hot.

meanwhile heat the milk in another pan

add saffron threads

add sugar

bring to a boil so the sugar dissolves and the saffron flavours the milk

5.  Gradually add the sweetened hot milk to the caramelised dal and fold gently over low heat.

now the dal is ready for the sweetened milk

add the sweetened milk to the dal

the mixture will bubble as the milk is folded into the dal

fold gently

soon all the milk should be absorbed into the dal

6.  Keep folding till all the milk is absorbed and the ghee leaves the sides of the pan.

once the milk is absorbed, the ghee will leave the sides of the pan

7.  Add the ground green cardamom and fold gradually.

add the ground cardamom & fold

8.  Serve hot, sprinkled with the roasted almonds and pista kulfi!!

fold well till the halwa is ready

voilà! moong dal halwa sprinkled with roasted almonds

As for my other favourite, kesar (saffron) pista kulfi, well, if you really want to make your own, you may have to do a class. . .!!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!


  1. Purva

    Just love moong dal halwa. Will surely give it a try…
    Moong Dal Halwa & Nagpur Winter… Perfect Combination !!!
    Thank you Sir for sharing this recipe. Please do share more dessert recipes.

  2. shahbanu

    Ajoy – you have a fantastic blog! Love the detailed step by step pictures and you make it all seem so easy! Am inspired to try all your recipes!
    I was very happy to know that you are from Nagpur since I am from there too! Hope I have the good fortune to meet you in Nagpur someday!!

  3. Ajoy Joshi

    Great Story Priti!
    Happy cooking !!

  4. Ajoy Joshi

    Hi Priti,
    Yes, I always grind it with the shell.
    I don’t think it makes a difference as long as the pods are finely ground. If at all it does add a new dimension with a hint ‘cardamom’ in the background without the ‘taste’ of it.
    Happy Cooking!!

  5. Priti

    Chef, You powder the cardamom with the shell on? Does it affect the texture or taste?

  6. Priti

    I love Moong Dal Halwa! It takes me back to my childhood in Delhi, after playing Holi; the colony where we lived hosted a Holi Lunch for all residents and there was always warm Moong Dal Halwa (made with generous amonts of ghee) which tasted heavenly on those cold Delhi afternoons. I have never tried it at home because I was told it takes too much time and ghee! 😀 but this pictorial is tempting me to give it a try with a little of both. Winter has unofficially started where I live and I would love to savor a bowl of this sitting near my window enjoying the warm sunshine. I love warm and cold combos in dessert, this paired with homemade kulfi seems fit for an Indian Thanksgiving feast.

  7. Anonymous

    It looks delicious!!

  8. Ajoy Joshi

    Hello Radhika,
    Go for it and have fun!!
    Happy cooking !!!

  9. radhika25

    Wonderful step by step recipe! I’m drooling looking at the moong halwa 🙂

  10. Ajoy Joshi

    Hello Maneesha,
    Great to hear from you and thanks for the feedback.
    As for the recipes I am sure you are a master yourself!
    Happy cooking !!

  11. Ajoy Joshi

    Please do and could you give us a feedback on the final product.
    Happy cooking!!

  12. Maneesha Bhosale

    Thank you for sharing the recipe Joshi Saab. Love reading about Nilgiri’s.

  13. isingcakes

    Guess what I have a sweet tooth too..puran poli, gajracha halwa, gulab jamun love them all..I spent my childhood eating mishti doi, sandesh, rosogulla and chamcham….Its early morning in UK and need to excercise, instead I am staring at moong sheera…love the generous ghee addition:) I love it.

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