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Semolina Halva with Pine Nuts – Irmik Helvasi

The semolina halva, Irmik Helvasi, is amongst the foods  that is dear to my heart. I love the comforting Semolina (Irmik) halva and its inviting aroma takes me right back home. Semolina Halva is also the traditional dessert during religious occasions and Holy Nights in Islam, where it is customary to share the halva with family and friends.

Buttery semolina with crunchy pine nuts and cinnamon, delicious and comforting - takes me right back home

Buttery semolina with crunchy pine nuts and cinnamon, delicious and comforting – takes me right back home

Irmik Helvasi, Semolina halva is one of the most well known halvas in Turkey. Halva (helva) signifies good fortune and is made not only during religious festivals, but also events like moving houses. It is also traditional for a bereaved family to offer semolina halva to friends when a family member passes away.

Although Irmik helvasi, Semolina Halva, is made with such simple ingredients like semolina, butter, sugar and pine nuts, it requires skill to get it right and is regarded by some as a culinary masterpiece. The silky blend of buttery semolina with crunchy pine nuts offers such a wonderful blend of texture and taste; the dust of cinnamon over halva complements really well too.

Many versions of semolina halva are available in different cuisines; Turkish version of semolina halva uses coarse semolina, rather than the semolina flour. You can find coarse semolina in Turkish, Middle Eastern shops; even at shops specializing in Mediterranean cuisine. In the US, the online Turkish store also carries coarse semolina.

I hope you enjoy this comforting, delicious semolina halva.

Adapted from Ghillie Basan’s The Complete Book of Turkish Cooking

Serves 6-8

110gr/4oz/1/2 cup butter

60ml/4 tbsp light olive oil

450gr/1 lb. /scant 2 ¾ cups coarse semolina – irmik –

45ml/3 tbsp pine nuts

900ml/1 ½ pints/ 3 ¾ cups milk – whole milk preferred-

335gr/12oz/1 ½ cup sugar

10 ml/ 2 tsp ground cinnamon to decorate

15ml/1 tbsp sautéed pine nuts to decorate – optional


Stir in the pine nuts and semolina to cook with the butter and olive oil.

Stir in the pine nuts and semolina to cook with the butter and olive oil.

Melt the butter and olive oil in a heavy pan, stir in the pine nuts and semolina and cook over a medium heat, stirring all the time, until lightly browned.

In the same time, warm the milk in a separate pan and stir in the sugar, mix well and let the sugar dissolve. Turn the heat off once the milk is hot (but not boiling) and sugar is dissolved.

Pour the milk & sugar mixture into semolina & pine nuts mixture and lover the heat. Mix well and cook over low heat until the milk has been absorbed; stirring continuously for about 10-15 minutes. Turn the heat off. Place a paper towel over the pan and cover with the lid, let the helva rest for about 10 minutes – the paper towel will absorb all the excess moisture-.

If you like, sauté 1 tablespoon pine nuts in a drizzle of olive oil for a few minutes. Spoon the semolina halva into individual bowls, and serve with a dust of cinnamon and a few sauteed pine nuts over them.

Coarse Semolina Halva - Irmik Helvasi

Coarse Semolina Halva – Irmik Helvasi

Afiyet Olsun,


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Chocolate Cake with a Tickle of Red Pepper Flakes – Some like it (a little) hot!

I have been hooked by the Spice Trip TV program where one of my favorite chefs Stevie Parle and the spice expert Emma Grazette have been travelling around the world to discover the wonderful, magical world of spices. They have been to Mexico a few weeks ago, exploring the chillies and Stevie produced a gorgeous looking Mexican style chocolate cake with chilli flakes in it. Chillies are so varied in Mexican cuisine and they do appear at sweet and savory dishes – not to forget the famous Mexican hot chocolate with chilies. I loved the idea of the warmness a touch of red pepper flakes would bring to the cake.

Chocolate cake with a tickle of red pepper flakes; moist, delicious and certainly will keep you warm 🙂

Since then, I have been very tempted to reproduce this delicious, very easy chocolate cake, using Turkish red pepper flakes. We Turks notoriously add red pepper flakes to almost all savory dishes, but experimenting with chillies in cakes and desserts was a first for me, so I must say, I was cautious. The original recipe asks for 2 tsp dried chilli flakes – I used just a shy of 1  1/2 tsp Turkish red pepper flakes, as they have a strong, smoky flavor. The result was a delicious but not overpowering  touch of spice that gets you after a while, and brings you warmness. Here is what my 8 year old son thought of the cake; “ You get the yummy chocolate taste first, then in a while you feel a tickle of spice, I liked it”. We enjoyed this spicy twist to the chocolate cake and I liked the surprise element to it and seeing the smiles on friends who tried!

Have you added chillies to your sweet creations before? I would love to hear your experiences.

This recipe is slightly adapted from Stevie Parle’s original recipe, which also calls for 2 tbsp tequila –  a delicious addition. You can decorate your cake with pomegranates seeds for a festive look and taste.

Serves 10

Preparation time: 15 minutes                                                     Cooking time: 20 minutes

200gr/7oz dark chocolate with 70% cocoa solids

200gr/7oz unsalted butter

1 ½ tsp Turkish red pepper flakes or chilli flakes

4 eggs

150gr/ 5 ¼ oz golden caster sugar

45gr/3 tbsp ground almonds

15ml/ 1 tbsp plain flour –(for gluten-free version, please use gluten and wheat free plain white flour blend)

A pinch of sea salt flakes

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4/350F

Line a 23cm round cake tin with grease proof paper and grease with  butter.

Chocolate and red pepper flakes; rather unusual yet surprisingly delicious.


Melt the chocolate, butter and red pepper flakes in a glass or metal bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, taking care not to burn the chocolate. The bowl must not touch the water as this will split the mixture. Remove from the heat, stir and leave for a few minutes to cool.

Stir in the ground almonds and the flour to the chocolate mixture; the ground almonds are not only healthy but also keep the cake deliciously moist.

Stir in the eggs, one by one, and then the sugar, followed by the almonds, flour and a pinch of salt. Pour the batter into the cake tin and sprinkle with the salt flakes. Bake for 20 minutes.

The chocolate cake with red pepper flakes, baked - ready to cool.

Leave to cool, then cut into slices. It is a rich, moist cake, so you don’t need thick slices.

The chocolate cake has a nice crust but it is deliciously moist inside.

The cake looks lovely and festive when decorated with pomegranate seeds. The tangy taste of the pomegranates also complement the rich chocolate cake well.

Chocolate cake with red pepper flakes - hope you enjoy it 🙂


Wishing You All A Wonderful Festive Season & Afiyet Olsun,



Covent Garden, London, looking very festive, December 2010. A more recent photo will follow shortly!


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