In many Mizrahi communities, the year after someone dies, their family and friends get together to say prayers, give speeches and share a meal. In some communities, it is customary to host such a gathering each year for decades on the anniversary of the death.
Since my Sabba Shelomo passed during the pandemic and we were unable to hold a proper funeral, it was especially important to my grandmother that his Azkara (anniversary of one’s passing) be extra special. The most crucial part? Halva.
This halva is uncomplicated, without pistachios, chocolate or even the usual tahini paste. Instead, it is simply flour, honey, oil, and cardamom.
The intensely aromatic cardamom is of the utmost significance since our Nash Didan tribe believes the smell of the halva cooking must be strong enough so as to reach the heavens. Strong scents like cardamom can also trigger strong and emotional memories.
Although I was raised to believe that this custom was somewhat unique, halva actually exists as a memorial food in Turkish, Armenian and Iranian communities.
In Turkey, for example, halva is so integral to funerals that the phrase “roasting halva for someone” indicates someone has died.
If you do not yet have the tradition of cooking with your family to honor those who have passed away, I invite you to take on this custom of baking halva together. This tradition has brought me comfort, and you can incorporate it into your mourning rituals as well.
During challenging moments of grieving, or on days of remembrance like Yom Hazikaron, here is a recipe to help you take part in the rituals our ancestors would seek comfort in.
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 2 cups flour
- ¼ tbsp freshly ground cardamom
- 8 oz honey
- ½ cup room temperature water
- Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add flour and cardamom.
- Stir the flour and oil until it turns a beige-golden color and forms small lumps.
- Add ½ cup of water and the honey.
- Mix continuously until it comes together — this means don’t stop moving your stirring arm the entire time! You are not finished until it gets tough and turns a deep caramel color.
- Lift it out of the pan and form into a large, flat pancake on a serving platter. Score into cubes or diamonds.