Semolina Helva with Pine Nuts Recipe

Turkish 'irmik helvası' is made with semolina and pine nuts. It's a soft, comforting dessert traditionally served to commemorate life's important events like birth, death and marriage. Photo © Elizabeth Taviloglu
  • 45 mins
  • Prep: 15 mins,
  • Cook: 30 mins
  • Yield: 8 servings
Ratings (5)

Helva (as it's known in Turkey -- halvas in Greece, halva in the Middle East and halwa in India and Pakistan) is a group of desserts based on either starch like flour or semolina, or nuts like sesame seeds.

All About Dessert Helva

Dessert helva in Turkish cuisine is prepared by browning large amounts of semolina or flour in butter, then adding sweetened milk or water to create a soft, cooked paste.

Helva desserts vary greatly from region to region and family to family and are a good example of Turkish regional cuisine. Every cook has a slightly different way of flavoring their helva. Some prefer it plain, while others add flavors like rose water, vanilla, cinnamon and orange zest.

Before serving, helva is formed into decorative shapes with a spoon or by using a mold. It can also be served in loose pieces and eaten with a spoon. Semolina helva with pine nuts is the most popular helva in Turkish cuisine. In Turkish, it's called irmik helvası (ear-MEEK' hell-VAH'-suh).

Helva plays an important role in Turkish culture. It's a dessert that's traditionally prepared at milestone events in a family's life. Helva is made for all important life events, to commemorate births, deaths, marriages, circumcisions, leaving for and returning from army service, and even as a prayer for rain!

Helva is also served on religious holy days and during holidays like Ramadan and Eid Al-Adha. During the Ottoman period, it was common practice for helva to be distributed to the poor on Fridays, Islam's holy day of the week.

It's said that in every "proper" Turkish household, the housewife has a big wooden spoon and a copper pot to make helva. Preparing and sharing helva is a way that neighbors socialize, grow friendships and communicate throughout their community. Try this easy recipe for helva and share it with your family and friends.

What You'll Need

  • 3 1/2 cups semolina
  • 1 3/4 cups unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • Cinnamon for garnish

How to Make It

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and sugar. Heat the milk until scalding. Stir it occasionally until the sugar dissolves, then remove it from the heat.
  2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the pine nuts and the dry semolina. With a wooden spoon, turn the semolina over and over until it's all coated with butter. Continue to turn over and stir the mixture constantly until it turns golden brown and the pine nuts darken.
  1. Keep stirring to keep it from burning, especially around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat.
  2. Pour the hot milk mixture into the semolina. Let it bubble up and settle. Stir it well to make sure the butter and pine nuts are distributed evenly throughout. Cover the saucepan leaving the lid on crack.
  3. Let the helva rest until all the liquid is absorbed and it's cool enough to handle. When you're ready to serve it, you can break up the mixture using a wooden spoon or your fingers. 'Helva' is best when it's still warm. You can serve helva in a loose pile or use a small bowl as a mold.
  4. Sprinkle some cinnamon on top before serving. Warm helva is delicious alone or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.