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Semolina halva unites Turks in times of joy, sorrow

Semolina halva, a centuries-old dessert of the Levant, serves a social function that brings together families, friends and neighbors in Turkey.
Workers prepare helva, a traditional Turkish sweet prepared with sesame oil, at Konya Seker Sugar Factory in Cumra, a small town about 50km (31 miles) south of the central Anatolian city of Konya January 27, 2012. REUTERS/Umit Bektas (TURKEY - Tags: BUSINESS FOOD) - RTR2WYOL

Halva is a popular dessert with many claiming it as their own, from the Balkans to India. In Anatolia, the peninsula of land that today constitutes the Asian part of Turkey, halva has a social mission: it is shared with family and friends at joyous events such as weddings, births, circumcision ceremonies and religious celebrations. Traditionally, it is also served during Lent, at funerals and when someone leaves for hajj and is welcomed back home.

It was "semolina halva," also referred to as "funeral halva" or "veterans’ halva," that was the source of intense debate in my family. My mother, born in the Aegean town of Izmir, believed olive or almond oil should be used in the preparation of halva, while my dad, from the eastern town of Kharpout (Elazig), was adamant that semolina should be made with unsalted, high-quality butter.

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