Gajar ka Halwa must've been invented by a cook with a touch of genius. This simple but spectacular Indian dessert classic made with shredded carrots harnesses the natural flavor and sweetness of carrots into a dish so delicious, you'll be making it over and over.
As much as I love most vegan Indian sweets, I am particularly partial to Gajar ka Halwa, a thick and dry carrot pudding studded with nuts.
Part of the reason for this is the fact that it's made mostly with carrots, which means it is almost a healthy sweet -- an oxymoron if there ever was one. And yes, there's sugar here, but not as much sugar as you might think you'd need because the carrots, as they cook down, concentrate their own natural sugars.
What's more, if you really are on a health kick, you can make this recipe with dates, and cut out any added sugar altogether.
I had shared my Gajar ka Halwa with you all the way back in 2008 and it was quite perfect, but with Diwali knocking at the door, I wanted to refresh it for you because I've made some changes to make it even better over the years. For one, this is now a one-pot dish and it's still super easy to make, yet rich and delicious enough to enjoy on a special occasion. (You can also try my vegan carrot pudding, an equally delicious and naturally sweetened recipe that can double up both as breakfast and dessert)
I am not a big one for religious festivities of any kind, and most Indian festivals pass unnoticed by me, especially since I live far from India. But here's something I do love about India's religious holidays: I love that most Indians eat vegetarian on these days, because there's a tacit understanding that god would not want you eating his creatures on those special days.
But an exception, as it usually is with Indian vegetarian food, is milk and milk-based products, like ghee, which get used abundantly during holidays and festivities, and are a big part of Indian sweets eaten for Diwali or other occasions.
Gajar ka Halwa, too, is made with milk and khoya, a milk reduction. But for my vegan version I use cashew milk, which I make myself because I want the halwa to have a certain consistency and none of the preservatives.
The cashew milk is a great substitute for the milk and khoya, because it adds richness and sweetness and flavor. And there are many good reasons to shun milk, a product that comes from immense cruelty to cows.
In India, factory farming and its related abuses have taken firm hold, and as the country's thirst for milk grows, the animals who suffer most to quench it are dairy cows and buffaloes.
Cows and buffaloes used for milk live incredibly short lives -- just six to eight years. They are kept in a constant state of pregnancy to provide milk, and pumped with hormones and antibiotics. Calves are separated from their mothers early on -- sometimes right after birth -- so the milk he or she should be drinking can instead be used to feed humans. The male calves are slaughtered for their meat.
Ironically, India holds the title of the world's largest beef exporter, with the meat exported coming ostensibly from buffaloes (because cows are considered sacred!). Cows too old to produce milk are often turned out onto the streets and either starve or forage for food in garbage dumps, ending up with record numbers of plastic bags in their stomachs. There are said to be an estimated 60,000 homeless cows living on the streets of New Delhi, India's capital city, alone.
However you look at it, milk and milk products are bad news, and there's nothing sacred or holy about abusing an innocent animal and then leaving her to fend for herself on the streets where she will die anyway of eating plastic because there's no food available to fill her belly.
Veganism is slowly taking hold in India, and festivities are a great time to start a new tradition. Whether you are Indian or not, and whether you celebrate Diwali or not, I hope you will try this vegan Gajar ka Halwa. You won't miss the dairy, I promise. And your holiday will be a sweeter one for knowing you didn't contribute to the cruelty of milk.
Tips for making the perfect Gajar ka Halwa:
- Grate your carrots coarsely, not very fine. This is because the carrot will cook quite a bit and absorb the nondairy milk and if it's too finely shredded, it will reduce to a mash.
- Try and make your cashew milk yourself, because you really don't want those added preservatives taking away from the flavor of your halwa. There are just five ingredients here, and keeping each flavor clean will give you the best results. You will need to blend a cup of raw cashews with three cups of water.
- When you mix the milk and the carrots, it will look like you have a disproportionately large amount of milk, but don't worry. As you cook the halwa, the carrots will absorb the milk and some of the liquid will evaporate.
- You have some leeway in how long you cook your halwa. I like to make it really dry (as in it's still moist and succulent, but there isn't any visible liquid). But I've eaten versions of carrot halwa that are more pudding-y and they taste quite good. I like cooking it a bit longer because I find that removes the grassy flavor of the carrot and leaves just its deliciousness behind.
- You can use sugar to sweeten your halwa, like I did, or you can make it with no sugar added. Instead, sweeten it naturally with dates. Soak your dates in hot water for at least 30 minutes and blend them as smoothly as possible. I would use half a cup of the cashew milk to blend them and then add them at the same time as the carrots and milk (instead of a little later, as with the sugar).
Now that you're armed with all of my gajar ka halwa wisdom, let's move on and get cooking. And to all readers of Holy Cow!, a very happy Diwali.
Ingredients for Gajar ka Halwa:
- Carrots. Richer colored carrots will give you better color. You can use color, although your garden variety orange carrots are most commonly used in India.
- Sugar. I use turbinado sugar or coconut sugar because they add a richer color as well. Again, any sugar is fine.
- Green cardamom powder
- Raw cashews
- Sliced almonds
More vegan Indian sweets
Vegan Gajar ka Halwa recipe
Vegan Carrot Halwa, Gajar ka Halwa
- 2 tablespoon vegetable oil (divided)
- ½ cup sliced almonds (other nuts like cashews and pistachios would work too)
- 4 packed cups carrots (about 1 ½ pounds, grated coarsely. Use the grater with the largest holes.)
- 1 cups raw cashews
- 1 teaspoon cardamom powder (always use green cardamom for sweets)
- 1 cup sugar (alternatively use 1 cup of dates soaked in hot water for 30 minutes, then blended with part of the cashew milk you'll make for this recipe.)
- Blend the cashews with 3 cups water into a very smooth milk/cream. If your blender isn't very powerful, soak the cashews in water for at least an hour first.
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pan, preferably nonstick. A wider pan will allow the liquid to thicken and evaporate more easily. Add the sliced almonds or any other nuts you are using. Saute them for a couple of minutes until they just begin to change color. Add the carrots and cardamom, saute a couple of minutes, then add the cashew milk. * (If using dates to sweeten, see notes below before adding all the milk).
- Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-low heat until most of the milk has been absorbed into the cashews. This will take at least 15-20 minutes. If it's going too slow, increase the heat a bit but keep an eye on the carrots and stir them often because you don't want them to stick to the bottom.
- Add the sugar and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and stir until it's well mixed and the sugar has dissolved.
- At this stage, you can pretty much decide how much longer you want your halwa to cook -- taking it off the heat at this point will give you a more pudding-like texture, but you can continue to cook longer until the halwa pulls off the bottom and sides of the pan and there's absolutely no visible liquid. I like to cook the halwa to this stage, but it means some exercise for your arm, so be warned.
- Once the halwa reaches the desired state of doneness, take if off the heat. You can eat the halwa warm or at room temperature or cold, it's delicious every way. Garnish with sliced almonds before serving, if you wish.
- If cooking with dates, soak the dates for 30 minutes in hot water, then blend into a very smooth paste with ½ cup of the cashew milk you'll be using. Add the date-cashew milk mixture to the pan at the same time as you add the rest of the cashew milk and continue cooking. Skip over the step in the recipe where you add sugar.
Excellent recipe. Made it for vegan friends who visited. It’s as close as it gets to the traditional recipe. It’s more of a personal preference but I’m going to skip oil next time I make it. Would love to try the dates version of it. Thanks for the recipe and amazing job at keeping it simple.
When it is almost done add a cup of sweetened shredded coconut. Increases volume and taste, also texture gets better as you eat it.
Excellent recipe. Easy to follow, nice ingredients and just the right amount for 12 people as stated.
So happy to hear you loved it!
Loved the recipe, have shared it with my circle too! I have PCOS and these sugar-free, diary-free recipes for desserts are a big savior to satiate the sweet cravings of folks like me!
So happy to hear!
This came out really well. Thank you so much for the recipe. 2 modifications I did-
Added an additional cup of sugar
Added some orange red colouring
My non-vegan friends couldn't believe this was vegan.
Awesome, happy you loved it!
Thanks for speaking up about the cruelty of the dairy industry !! I haven't made the Carrot Halwa yet, but it looks really good and a healthy sweet to feed my grandchildren! I also want to try making many of your recipes for my elderly mum, who loves Indian food. Also, for my grandchildren, who I know would love some of your snack dishes such as the Frankies from Mumbai and Aloo Tikki potato patties. Vaishali you are awesome !
Thanks, Sita, for making my day! 🙂
Thanks for sharing this delicious recipe. I loved it when I tried it from indian friends who make the trditional version, This next time I'll do yours.
Thanks also for including the explanation about the cow milk issue, I hope it helps to bring more awareness to people.
Keep bringing on your wonderful posts! I read them all!
Gabriel from Mexico
Thanks for your kind words, Gabriel, and hope you do try the vegan version of the carrot halwa.
Karen M. Chapman
Very beautifuly worded about facts of animal slaughter and how to find it in alternTe vegan foods.
I just made this to satisfy a craving I was having, and it did the trick. I only had a 1/2 lb of carrots on hand, so I cut the whole recipe in half which was the right amount for me to have a big heaping bowl all to myself. I didn't have almond milk, but I had cashew milk. I also used Earth Balance instead of oil, which gave it a nice buttery taste. I used agave for the sugar.
Believe it or not, this actually came out way creamier and richer than the real thing! The only thing I would change next time is I would probably put the cashews in with the carrots and milk in the first step. They were still very crunchy, but maybe because I halved my recipe and it only took about 30 mins total to cook. I will definitely be saving this recipe to make again!
I finally made this last weekend. I was a little skeptical about this ever tasting like the real thing.. but I have to say this version tastes better than the original. The carrots are wonderfully caramelized and you can't really tell that this has not been made with oodles of ghee and milk. Thank you.
Vaishali, my husbands doctor recently made him switch to an all vegan diet for his health so I made this today and it turned out wonderful! I used coconut oil instead of vegetable however I will try the Earth Balance butter substitute spread as someone mentioned above for a little more of the buttery flavor. Thanks for posting, looking forward to trying your other recipes!
Hi Dizzle, so glad you tried the halwa-- one of my favorites. You can definitely try the vegan butter. Thanks for letting me know!
I made this yesterday--good stuff. Halwa at restaurants is always overpoweringly over-sweetened, but this was great. I used a scant 1/4 cup of sugar, and a little Earth Balance to give it a buttery flavor. I must make this again. Can a person overdose on carrots?
Bless you for the vegan Indian sweets. I found a vegan dessert made with chickpeas, I think, ONCE in an Indian grocery, but I never saw it again after that.
Next on my list: Kaju Katli. I don't have a nonstick pan, so it may get messy!
Hi Catherine, so glad you tried it! Carrot halwa is truly a near-guilt-free snack. There are lots of Indian desserts with chickpeas, but I am guessing you're thinking of Soan Papdi-- they come in squares and are rather brittle and very sweet?
Hope you try the Kaju Katli. You can also use a cast-iron pan, if you have one of those and if it's well-seasoned. I use cast-iron pans for nearly all of my "non-stick" cooking.
We made it just now and it's yum 🙂
Ankita, now I'm craving some carrot halwa. 🙂 Glad you liked it and thanks for letting me know.
Turned out yummy... wish I had doubled the recipe though. Thanks.
I made this and it was quite good. However, note that it only makes enough for one person!
The carrots did not turn a rich red on frying. I used 4 Tbsp sugar and it was very sweet, I'd recommend using less.
Just made. Gorgeous.
I used sultanas, pistachio and a few cashews as the trimming at the end. It took me ages, I will experiment turning the heat up a bit next time!
I adore Indian food, and gajar ka halwa has always been one of my favorites, though it is nearly impossible to find in vegan form!
I just made this recipe using light soy milk, 2 Tbs brown sugar and 1 Tbs maple syrup for sweetener. I put in 5 whole cardamom pods and 1/4 tsp ground cardamom. I also added a pinch of safron threads, which made the color lovely, and I added a few drops of rose water to make up for the taste lost by switching from almond to soy milk.
Your proportions were ideal; it turned out perfect!
Tried this over the weekend .. and yum yum yum! Loved it!
Like everything else you have, this looks really awesome too...
Thanks for answers to my questions 🙂
it looks colourful with cashews and yummy
Gajar halwa is one of my favs.....and i am kind of partial to the whole milk, ghee sauteed halwa that my mom makes:) the use of almond milk is pretty cool...may be i will give it a try with one of the other halwas that i make
I've never cooked with almond milk.
It's been a loooooong time since I had gajar ka halwa. Yours looks absolutely delicious!
What a co-incidence! I have a post for carrot halwa languishing in my draft folder too 😀 Made it for Dussera too! Love the sound of almond milk in halwa ... the photo looks fabulous, Vaishali!!
You are a genius!
Your look very different not flakes of carrot great one...
Hey that looks divine Vaishali..Cant beleive that is made in a vegan way..
Hey, stop tempting us like this! Just kidding. What a vibrant color for a halwa! Looks so delicious and guilt-free! BTW, reg. almond milk can you tell me how much calcium is there in it and is it good for coffees, and for kids too? I've been searching ways to cut down calories!:)
Vegan Eating Out
My mouth is watering. Inspiring!
Halwa looks amazing.. such a tempting picture.. lovely color too.
Neat idea subtituting almond milk for regular milk. I got to try this.
Wow..such a guilty free recipe..though i am still wondering whether it tasted same or not,but going with your verdict,i can take a plunge,considering winter season is round the corner,markets are bound to be flooded with juicy red carrots,an apt season to eat halwa
Thanks for sharing!
Carrot halwa looks soooooo tempting and mouthwatering.Love the colour.
I have never seen such a delicious carrot halwa.
They look awesome.
I'm always on the lookout for vegan versions of Indian sweets as I have a lactose intolerant boss. Would you know what I could substitute for almond milk? I doubt we get that here.
The halwa looks very nice. The colour the sugar has given it is indeed lovely 🙂
Wow carrots in almond milk, sounds simply gr8. You rock dear.
Looks so tempting! I too made some vegan almond burfis for the festive season but they are to be posted yet - will try to do it before 31st:)
I love your recipes! Almond milk is the best - I use it all the time. I will definitely be trying this.
This vegan sweet looks delectable Vaishu! I guess it is more tasty & rich with almonds milk 🙂
carrot halwa looks delish! Nice idea to add aalmond milk for richness, substitute for milk.
You have a kewl blog!