Sesame seems to be enjoying a moment in the spotlight recently and I couldn’t be happier. Halva was always a staple in my house growing up, and now as an adult I am always looking for ways to include it in baked goods (like my halva swirl brownies) and other dishes. Earlier this year I was introduced to a sesame-based spread that my daughter and I both really enjoyed. In fact the jar has long been licked clean.
The newest halva spread business on the block is Brooklyn Sesame, started by native Israeli and expert “raw halva” maker Shahar Shamir who has been making and serving his all natural spreads for years for friends and family. Shahar actually never intended to start the small food business. Rather, he wanted to open a café, but when met with several challenges, his friends suggested he started selling his halva spread instead. And so Brooklyn Sesame was born.
In Israel it is common to eat halva or tahini with breakfast, as a snack or for dessert. And while the fat content of tahini has been a turnoff for some Americans, that perception is starting to change as it is more widely acknowledged that good fats from items like nuts and sesame can produce long-term health benefits and even help with weight-loss.
Shahar himself admitted that he gained 7 pounds this last holiday season when he took a break from making his halva spread. There weren’t any open jars lying around, and so he was eating less of the super food. “When I eat my halva, I am not eating other junk and I believe sesame and honey are great for digestion,” Shahar shared.
Brooklyn Sesame’s spreads come in six different varieties including pistachio, cocoa, black caraway seeds and toasted coconut. The high-quality spreads with a “Brooklyn sensibility” have even caught the attention of The New York Times, Food and Wine and Real Simple among many others.
Have a halva craving? The halva spreads are available in more than 25 stores in the New York area, one store in Massachusetts or you can order from their website.
You can also try whipping up one of Shahar’s signature recipes this holiday season and use some rich, sweet halva spread to usher in the New Year.
The following recipes are courtesy of Jörg Thoene, Leah Koenig and Shahar Shamir.
Apple and Coconut Halva Baklava Tarts
1 small Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
zest of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped pistachios
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cardamom
6 sheets thawed filo dough
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted (or substitute vegetable or coconut oil)
1/4 cup Brooklyn Sesame Halva Spread with Toasted Coconut, divided
Honey, for drizzling
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and set aside a 12-cup muffin tin.
In a bowl, stir together the apple, lemon zest, lemon juice, and brown sugar; let stand for 10 minutes until it gets juicy. Stir in the pistachios, walnuts, cinnamon, and cardamom.
Place 1 sheet of filo dough on a cutting board (cover the remaining sheets with a damp towel so they do not dry out), and gently brush all over with the melted butter. Place a second sheet on top of the first and continue in this fashion, alternating brushing with butter and stacking filo sheets until there are 6 layers. Use a sharp knife to cut the filo sheet into 12 squares. Arrange 1 square into each well of the muffin tin, pressing it into the bottom and sides.
Spoon 1 teaspoon of Halva Spread into the bottom of each cup, then fill two-thirds of the way with the apple-nut mixture. Brush edges of each pastry with a little more melted butter; bake until the pastry is golden, 15-20 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then carefully remove tarts to a wire rack. Just before serving, drizzle each tart with a little honey.
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 pounds lamb stew meat, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
2 yellow onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped, optional
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1/2 cup dry white or red wine
1 1/2 cups beef or vegetable stock
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, with their juice
1/4 cup chopped dried dates
3 Tbsp Brooklyn Sesame Halva Spread with Black Caraway Seeds
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Finely chopped fresh parsley, for serving
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot set over medium-high heat.
Working in batches (do not crowd the pan), add the lamb cubes and sear, turning with tongs, until well-browned on all sides. Transfer browned lamb to a plate and set aside.
Add remaining tablespoon of oil to the pot, then add onions, carrots, if using, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, and red pepper flakes and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.
Add the meat back to the pot along with the wine, stock, and tomatoes; bring mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is cooked through, about 1 hour.
Stir in the dates and Halva Spread, turn heat up to medium-low, and continue cooking, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until fruit softens and the stew thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. (It will continue to thicken as it cools.) Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, transfer stew to a shallow bowl, sprinkle with parsley.
For some time now I had in my head that I wanted to make a brownie that involved halva, that delicious Middle Eastern sesame confection. I researched. I pondered.
And then when I got a jar of the brand-new Soom Foods Tehina, I knew it was my sign to go for it. What I loved about using this particular sesame paste was the super smooth consistency, easy pour-ability and also the fantastic plastic container. Much less messy or tricky to open than the metal cans!
While I chose to sprinkle the halva pieces on top of the brownies, you could also mix them into the brownie batter itself, or make a double batch of the brownies and do a layer of brownie filled with the tahini-cream cheese filling. The possibilities are endless.
Want to make this “semi-homemade” or pareve? Use some tried-and-true store-bought brownie mix and mix as directed. Add 1/4 cup chocolate chips to batter, and sprinkle 1/2 cup crumbled halva on top for another variation.
For the halva-cream cheese layer:
5 oz cream cheese
2 Tbsp butter, softened
¼ cup sugar
1 Tbsp flour
½ cup tahini
For the brownie layer:
¾ cups flour
1/3 cup Hersheys Special Dark Cocoa
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
¼ cup butter, softened (1/2 stick)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
1/4 cup chocolate chips
For the top:
¼ cup – ½ cup crumbled halva pieces
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line an 8 x 8 baking pan with cooking spray.
For the brownie layer:
Sift flour, cocoa, cinnamon, salt and baking powder into a medium sized bowl.
In a small bowl cream the sugar and butter together until smooth, add eggs one at a time, beat well then add vanilla.
Fold egg, sugar, butter and vanilla mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients. Fold in chocolate chips.
Spread 3/4 of the brownie batter into the bottom of an 8 x 8 baking dish.
For the halvai-cream cheese layer:
Cream together butter, sugar and flour. Add cream cheese and mix/blend until smooth.
Scrape bowl and add the egg and beat until light and creamy.
Scrape down bowl again and add the tahini. Beat one minute or until the tahini is mixed into the cream cheese mixture completely.
Randomly dollop the tahini-cream cheese topping over the brownie batter. Dollop the remaining brownie batter on top.
Sprinkle halva pieces on top. Swirl the topping together into batter using a butter knife.
Bake at 350 for around 40-45 minutes.
Allow to cool and cut brownies into squares.