Until recently, quality halva was almost impossible to come by in New York. What could be found was dry, gritty and practically unrecognizable to loyal fans. But thanks to new purveyors and a recent revival in pastry kitchens across the city, things are looking up for the tahini-based confection.
An ancient treat, halva has been around for nearly 3,000 years. While its origin is widely disputed — Arabic, Turkish or Indian — it’s now enjoyed around the world, from Eastern Europe and North Africa to the Middle East and South Asia, and is especially sought out by some in the Jewish community during Passover, which begins April 22. In the U.S., it’s typically made with ground sesame paste, studded with nuts and served in loaves.
“It’s more like a rock,” Lisa Mendelson said of most New York halva.
Before co-founding the tahini and halva stand Seed + Mill, which opened in Chelsea Market earlier this year, Mendelson used to yearn for the halva she grew up eating in Israel. Now, her team mixes the treat by hand, creating a delicate, flaky texture that’s difficult to achieve with a machine.
Sold by the slice or in on-trend “bites,” Seed + Mill’s halva comes in more than 25 creative flavors, from coffee and nougat to rose oil and sea salt-dark chocolate.
The response, Mendelson says, has been overwhelming. “It was clearly something that was missing,” she said.
Restaurants around town seem to have taken notice, too. Here’s where you can find halva worked into a variety of unique desserts.