So last week was sister’s birthday and I wanted to try something sweet that would be nostalgic to her and the first thing that came to mind was the sunflower halva that she used to love. I guess I should mention, for those of you who don’t know this, that two of my sisters were born in Ukraine. You’d never guess it now though because they seem every bit as North American as I am.
Halva it’s not a common thing in the States but, as it happens, there are a bunch of Ukrainians that live in the Spokane area which is really close to where we live in Idaho. I really don’t like Spokane, in fact, I more than dislike it. We have this inside joke that my mom can never drive there again because the few times she has, and I mean very few, she seems to become some kind of cop target and ends up with absurd tickets. My mom is a very good and safe driver by the way so that has nothing to do with it.
But back to my point, there was this one time that we got sort of lost took a “short cut” in Spokane and stumbled upon this little Kiev market where they had authentic Ukrainian halva sold by authentic Ukrainians. (I sort of have this thing for accents and languages and I could just sit and listen to them talk all day. It’s so cool to me.) Anyway, Lela loved it and said it tasted just like when she was little so I’ve wanted to recreate it ever since.
You’re probably wondering what halva even is. From what I’ve read halva is made all over Europe but there are many variations. In the middle east they make it with sesame seeds but in eastern Europe (i.e. Ukraine) they make it with sunflower seeds. It’s a really simple candy and it only takes a few minutes to make. I have no idea if this is even close to how they do it overseas but Lela said it tastes like what she remembers so I thought I’d share it for you to try.
I think the key is to use fresh or roasted sunflower seeds and grind them in a food processor if you want the correct texture. However, if you’re in a rush and don’t mind a slightly more fudge-like texture, you can skip this step and just use sunflower seed butter. Either way, the flavor ends up delicious.
Ukrainian Sunflower Seed Halva (Vegan+GF)
Line a standard standard loaf pan with parchment and set aside. Put sunflower seeds into a food processor or blender and blend until very fine and beginning to look like really thick nut butter (but not quite). Use a spatula to scrape the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer and add the vanilla and salt.
Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium low heat and bring to a boil. Boil for about 5 to 7 minutes until a candy thermometer reads 245 degrees F. Remove from heat and quickly, but carefully, pour the syrup into the sunflower seed mixture while mixing on low speed. Mix just until combined then quickly scrape the entire mixture into the prepared pan then flatten down with spatula. Lay a second piece of parchment over top and press down firmly for a minute or two until very tightly packed.
Allow to cool completely at room temperature before cutting into pieces and serving. Store in an air-tight container.
If you'd like to skip the step of grinding the seeds you can try using sunflower seed butter instead. The texture will be slightly more fudgy but the flavor is very much the same. Simple replace the 2 cups of seeds with 1 cup of the sun butter.