Warning: do not read further if you are on a diet... :)
Sweets, sweets, sweets...We never can get enough of them. There are so many different types of sweets in the world, however, eastern varieties are probably the most elaborated, different and, in our humble opinion, the most tasty ones. Furthermore, the majority of eastern confections are also among the healthiest and natural sweets, as up to the modern days their authentic recipes include only natural ingredients such as nuts, seeds and fruits.
There are so many varieties of different sweets in Uzbekistan, that probably a whole book can be written listing all the types and recipes. However, we will try to list few of the the most famous and popular ones.
Halva is a well-known type of sweets in many Asian and Arabic countries and its name literally translates as "sweets". It is usually made and sold in irregular bricks and pieces, with crumbling texture that melts in your mouth releasing an amazing combination of tastes. And Uzbekistan has an astounding amount of halva varieties, ranging from simple, made of crushed seeds or nuts, flour and honey, to more complicated ones involving more than a dozen ingredients and quite elaborated recipes.
Best halva recipes are still kept in secret and such halva is impossible to find outside of Uzbekistan or even sometimes - outside of a particular city or region. The numerous ingredients for different types of halva might include sun flower or sesame seeds and all kinds of nuts, as well as cocoa, egg white, fruits and even a variety of vegetables.
The most special and delicious halva is cooked using just the sun.
The ingredients are carefully prepared and gradually mixed together, then evenly spread in special trays and placed in the sun for certain periods of time, allowing the mass to slowly crystallize and harden. This technique produces halva of the finest grain, that melts on the first touch of the tongue. However, such cooking method is only possible in a specific climate of Central Asia and is extremely time consuming, so to try these delicacies one would have to travel to the most remote locations.
Navat, which we have already mentioned in our previous story, is a more simple type of sweets and is very popular in Uzbekistan. Its form can be compared to rock candy type of sweets in Western countries, but it is very different in its taste. First of all, no synthetic additives or food coloring is ever used in preparation of these sweets. The most common main ingredients are grape or honey syrup, which is then spiced with different herbs.
Navat usually has a very beautiful warm color and looks like strings of jewels. The candy is actually made with a use of strings, which are tied across a vat with boiling syrup, so that sugar crystals form naturally around the strings into a candy.
Navat is not only tasty, but also has various useful qualities - it is a common remedy for a throat pain and cold, it helps to warm up and restore energy.
Pashmak is another very traditional and extremely delicious treat. Like most of the Uzbek sweets, authentic pashmak is made by hand out of warm flour and sugar mass, which is pulled over and over again into a very thin threads. It is then left to cool down to the room temperature and has to be enjoyed fresh within maximum of 2 days. The texture of pashmak is very tender and unusual, melting in the mouth. From the leftovers of pashmak - all the pieces that broke when pulling threads - another type of candy is made, called "parvarda", which is more dense and usually cut in squares. However, this candy is not hard inside as its Western counterpart, but very soft due to the air trapped inside the hot sugar during the pulling process of pashmak.
Pashmak and parvarda, apart from being very tasty, also are believed to have beneficial properties for the respiratory and circulatory systems and often are recommended to be eaten with a cup of strong tea to treat mild cold and fever. What a great way to fight a cold, right?! :)
As there is much more to tell, we will continue our sweet tale in the SECOND PART of the story and share some great and simple recipes to make delicious Uzbek sweets to surprise your friends and family. Stay tuned!