“Halva is an exquisite, delicious, gluten-free, and vegan confection,” reads the sign prominently mounted on the wall at House of Halva, the first-ever halva business to exist in Minnesota. Rows of samples in miniature plastic cups entice passing Midwesterners to give the dessert a try, offering tiny bits of halva in flavors ranging from traditional pistachio and sesame to trendy sea salt dark chocolate and Nutella.
“Americans like more flavors with chocolate,” says Israeli-born David Kadosh, who owns House of Halva with his wife, Aliza Kadosh. “I prefer more traditional flavors, like the rose oil. Our halva has a mild rose flavor, a very nice taste.”
Minnesota’s first halva confectionary is part of Saint Paul’s Keg and Case Market, a food hall housed in a repurposed brewery. The market’s diverse lineup of vendors includes a Jamaican restaurant, a third-wave coffee shop, and a gourmet cotton candy stand. Some customers at House of Halva might specifically be seeking a kosher dessert, but they’re more likely to have wandered over after feasting on a bacon grilled cheese sandwich. For many, this is their first time encountering the Middle Eastern confection.
“We find ourselves educating people all day long,” explains David. “200 times per day, I say, ‘Halva is a Middle Eastern dessert made with tahini.’ But I really enjoy educating people.”
He says that most people are familiar with tahini thanks to the popularity of hummus. Aliza notes that some customers call their halva “tahini cake” — displayed in large rounds and garnished with colorful toppings, it’s an understandable moniker.
“They think it’s fudge, or cheesecake,” says David. “They try to compare it to something, but there’s nothing to compare it to. One person said it’s like the inside of a Butterfinger, I can agree with that. But the texture, when they get used to it, they love it. It just takes a couple of seconds for them to absorb it.”
The couple sources their halva from an Israeli factory owned by David’s family. They also sell tahini by the jar, which they grind on-site at the market.
“My family has had a halva factory for 40 years,” David says. “I grew up with it, it’s in my blood.”
“I’m from Russia, so I grew up with a different variation,” explains Aliza. “It’s made with sunflowers, so it’s more bitter and dry.”
The couple was inspired to get into the halva business by Minnesota’s climate — they note that the confection hits the spot when paired with a hot cup of tea on a frigid winter day. However, they found that fresh halva wasn’t stocked in local grocery stores and was often unavailable in kosher stores, too. When they were offered a stall at Keg and Case Market for its 2018 launch, they seized the chance to introduce a dessert they’ve both loved since childhood to a completely new audience.
In addition to halva and tahini, House of Halva stocks Turkish delight, rosewater, silan (date syrup), and date-based energy bars. They also make tahini smoothies to order.
“We tried many recipes at home,” says David. “I think we burned out a blender!” Aliza adds with a laugh.
The “It’s a Date” smoothie is flavored with bananas and dates, while the “Freshness” smoothie features pineapple, kiwi, and mint. In a nod to Minnesota’s beloved Prince, “Purple Rain” gets its violet hue from a combination of blueberries, strawberries, and date syrup.
Since the tahini smoothies are made with almond milk, they’re vegan — and that’s a major selling point for many of House of Halva’s customers.
“We have lots of younger vegan customers,” says David. “We supply halva to [local vegan restaurants]… They try it there and then come here.” He explains that many of House of Halva’s flavors are dairy-free, too, which makes halva a tempting treat for Minneapolis-Saint Paul’s burgeoning vegan population.
Their menu also features a French-style halva parfait, made with slabs of dense housemade halva ice cream topped with tahini, date syrup, pecans, and crumbled halva. While the complex layers of flavors and textures would appeal to anyone, the parfait is kosher. That’s important to the Kadoshes, given the relatively few kosher restaurants in the metro area.
“I’m happy to see Jewish customers and know that we have a nice option for them,” says David.
“I really love to see new people, and I also love to hear from people who say [our halva] reminds them of home,” adds Aliza. “[For them,] it’s memories, as it is for us. It’s comfort food, and I’m glad that we can give that to our customers.”