Taste Memory

Ever since I read (here) about the toasted halva sandwiches served up at Seed+Mill in the Chelsea Market, I’d been racking my brain trying to remember where I’d had a similar sandwich. It only came to me as I was on the phone with Janinka at Seed+Mill, discussing an order of tahini (milled in house) and several flavors of halva (imported from Israel) that I was placing.

As we talked, I suddenly remembered: my Armenian grandmother used to make that for me. Just a slice of plain American white bread (it was the 50s, after all), warm from the toaster, wrapped around a thin slice of the Joyva Halvah (an alternate spelling) we bought in a tin (you can still find it in many markets). Bingo!

When I got my order, I immediately toasted a slice of the multi-grain bread I had on hand to do the same. At Seed+Mill, they make their “chalva” sandwich on buttered challah, like a grilled panini. Oh heaven! (At another New York sesame emporium, Brooklyn Sesame, they make a halvah spread that comes in a jar that you can read about here.)

Halva is basically made from ground sesame seeds and hot sugar syrup; you can read more about that on Wikipedia. It’s all mixed together, and formed into solid cakes that crumble apart with a fork or knife tip. Depending on how it was mixed and formed, it has a grain; I’ve noticed it can be easy to break off shards in one direction, but quite resistant in another – much like working with the grain in meat!

Meanwhile, I have loved snacking here and there on the five flavors of halva I got from Seed+Mill: chocolate-orange, pistachio, cardamom, nougat, and marzipan. It’s a taste from my childhood, but amped up with heightened (and more varied) flavor. It’s hard to say if I have a favorite, because the underlying flavor of sesame is present in all, and that, plus the candy-floss texture of the confection, is what pulls me back to my grandmother’s kitchen over and over again.



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