Growing up in Gujarat, India, Helly Raichura would linger outside her grandmother’s prayer room. She wasn’t so much interested in worshipping Krishna as a five-year-old as she was by the Prasad, the religious food offering that she was allowed to eat once Krishna was done with it.
“Part of my grandmother's rituals [involved] cooking all these delicious meals, which included a lot of little fine pieces of sweets for offering to the god Krishna,” says Raichura. “She used to dish them out and we absolutely loved it. This particular one, dudhi halwa, was my absolute favourite of all. That’s where I first ate it.”
Dudhi halwa is a vibrant green Indian dessert made with grated bottle gourd, ghee, sugar and reduced milk solids called khoya. Raichura’s grandmother also adds a potent rose extract to her dudhi halwa, which she sources from a secret supplier – just one drop is enough to flavour a kilogram of sugar.
“This producer uses only pink roses from a particular season in a year. He has a secret stash that he doesn’t sell to everyone. Grandma does all of these things similar to what I see top chefs doing now. It’s amazing to me that someone from this little town, 40 years back, was doing all these things which are trendy right now,” says Raichura.
Raichura’s grandmother, now 87 years old, not only instilled a love of cooking in her granddaughter, but also respect for produce and a “right” way to cook, which includes avoiding anything artificial. “No one else was interested in following her recipes because she was so stubborn and regimented in what she wanted to do, but I wanted to do it. In my childhood, I was just trying to get that approval from her,” says Raichura.
It was while working at her human resources job that Raichura channelled her desire to cook through a new side hobby: EnterViaLaundry. Here, she put on an Indian degustation showcasing local produce every Saturday night for a maximum of 12 guests. EnterViaLaundry already had a waitlist, but after being featured on the most recent season of MasterChef, the website received so much traffic, it crashed.
Raichura had plans to host dinners in a new venue, but they fell away when Melbourne went into lockdown. She’s currently running EVL at Home, a culinary journey around India. Every week covers a new region, with a recent trip back home to Gujurat in mid-August. After a brief break, Raichura will resume running EVL at Home. She'll continue to explore regional and lesser-known Indian food and will announce what's coming up via Instagram and the EVL at Home website.
“No one else was interested in following her recipes because she was so stubborn and regimented in what she wanted to do, but I wanted to do it."
“People usually focus on just the spice profile of Indian food, but I’m looking at using the techniques of Indian cooking and incorporating the Indigenous and seasonal products that Australia has to offer,” she says. “I can’t not use these products – they excite me so much – but I also can’t not use the techniques from my mother and grandmother.”
The first time Raichura ever cooked something was for her grandma, who had a sore hip and had to sit down. She was unable to stand at the stove for the required hour-and-a-half it'd take to slowly stir three litres of whole milk until it reduced to khoya.
“I told her: ‘I can make it if you tell me how,’” says Raichura. “I think that’s when I started cooking. The major influence I’ve had from grandma is the finesse that she has … She’d spend hours in the kitchen and I’d just sit there and watch her. That love of being in the kitchen, that stayed with me – I never thought of it as a chore.”
- 500 g bottle gourd
- 2 pinches baking soda
- 25 g ghee
- 50 gm khoya, grated (see note)
- 45 g caster sugar
- ½ tsp rosewater
- 1 litre water
- Edible silver, to garnish
- Wattle flowers, to garnish
- Dried rose petals, to garnish
1. Peel off the bottle gourd's skin with a sharp paring knife, keeping as much green flesh intact as possible.
2. Grate the green outer part and set aside.
3. Proceed to grate the white middle part of the gourd. Don't grate the soft centre and seeds (store these for another use).
3. In a pot, boil 1 litre of water. Add 2 pinches of baking soda to the pot, then add the green grated gourd (the gourd's natural chlorophyll will become bright green). Cook for 3 minutes and then add the grated white part. Cook for a further 3 minutes.
4. Strain gourd with a cheesecloth and squeeze out the excess water. Allow to cool. You should get around 110 g of boiled gourd.
5. In a heavy-bottomed, non-stick wok, heat the ghee. Add the bottle gourd and cook for 4 minutes.
6. Add the grated khoya. Mix well and remove any lumps that form. Continue cooking for 3 more minutes, and then add the caster sugar. Mix well and cook for a further 6 minutes.
7. Keep stirring and make sure the mix does not stick to the bottom of the wok. It should become firmer as the sugar caramelises.
8. Turn the heat off and add the rosewater. Mix thoroughly through the wok.
9. Spread the mix on a greased surface, so that the halwa mix is about 2cm high.
10. Stick on the edible silver and refrigerate the halwa for 2 hours.
11. Once set, cut the halwa into pieces. It should be soft but not watery. Garnish with wattle flowers and rose petals. If you wish to eat warm halwa, serve the dessert in a bowl straight after adding the rosewater.
Note: You can buy ready-made khoya (also known as mawa) from Indian grocers, but you can also make it at home using this following method. In a heavy-bottomed, non-stick wok, add 400 ml room temperature full-fat milk. Bring the milk to a boil, then reduce the heat. Keep stirring, making sure the milk does not stick to the bottom. Continue to stir and keep the wok on medium to high heat for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the milk is reduced to ⅙ of the volume and is thick like ricotta. Turn off the heat and let khoya cool, then grate it with a cheese grater.