Halvah is an old-time delicacy for eaters steeped in borcht, smaltz herring, gribenes, matzo brie, and other Jewish food favorites. The tahini-based confection is now more broadly popular as the result of new innovations in Israeli and Jewish cuisines.
Victoria Wallins, owner of Vermont’s Halvah Heaven, sells 10 halvah flavors, including five-spice Silk Road, Espresso, Cardamom Orange, Anise, and Peanut Butter. Maple, a top seller, gives a nod to a New England classic, maple syrup.
From Spain to India and throughout the Middle East, halvah has always taken on local ingredients. But this is new in the United States. Americans have, until recently, known halvah mainly from Joyva’s canonical versions: plain, chocolate-covered, and chocolate marble.
Wallins’s approach is gaining favor. At Our Fathers, an Israeli-inspired deli in Allston, chef Patrick McRell was quick to recognize the potential of transporting halvah’s Middle Eastern taste into New England cuisine.
McRell shows just how “local” a Middle Eastern desert can be. In his maple halvah creation, the halvah sits atop a chocolate mousse-filled tart, accompanied by silan, (date-syrup ice cream), small caramel popcorn clusters, and milk jam (caramelized milk and sugar).
The chef and halvah-maker say they are in frequent contact with each other: “She’ll tell me what she’s currently making and I’ll come up with a recipe incorporating it,” says McRell. Hence the “Victoria’s Halvah, Chef’s Whim” entry on the current desert menu.
Halvah Heaven sells for $6.50 for a 4-ounce package, available in specialty stores throughout Boston and Cambridge as well as in Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Check for store locations at www.HalvahHeaven.com.