The sweet pudding dessert called halwa appears in many guises all over Turkey, the Middle East, Afghanistan and India using various fruits, vegetables and spices. This version from Iraq is based on a recipe in Nawal Nasrallah’s book, Delights from the Garden of Eden. She uses carrots, but pumpkin is quite typical and has much the same effect. A touch of rosewater lends a subtle but distinctive flavoring. The garnish of pistachios and coconut, perhaps pomegranate seeds, gives contrast in color and crunch. Makes about 16 servings.
For the garnish:
Unsalted pistachios (or walnuts),
toasted and coarsely crushed Coconut, coarsely shredded and lightly toasted
Put the shredded pumpkin in a fairly large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer until softened, about 30 minutes. Drain the pumpkin in a large sieve set over a pot to retain the liquid; save 2 cups of liquid. In another smaller pot combine the sugar with 2 cups of reserved pumpkin liquid. Bring it to a boil and cook for about 10 minutes over medium-low until it forms a syrup and reaches the thread stage (a dab on a cold plate will hold its shape). Add the lemon juice.
In the original large pot (rinsed but not washed), melt the butter and stir in the cornstarch to make a smooth paste. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until the cornstarch turns pale gold, about 10 minutes. Stir in the drained pumpkin, mixing well, then the syrup. Cook the pumpkin mixture over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until it thickens and the pumpkin becomes translucent, about 30 minutes. Stir in the rosewater.
Spread the pumpkin mixture in a shallow layer on a wide plate or pan with raised edges. Before it has cooled and firmed, sprinkle the crushed nuts and coconut on the surface in a decorative pattern. Pomegranate seeds will give little bursts of color and acidity. Serve at room temperature cut with a knife into wedges or squares.