Sesame everything

Rhubarb Strawberry Crumble with Sesame Streusel


What is it that drives me so nuts about tahini?
It could be the nutty smoothness, the slight bitterness, and the sheer richness of the sesame taste, but I think thosw qualities are married to a sense of conquered distaste. When I was a kid, my mother would sometimes try to pass halvah off as a dessert. The refrigerated sesame fudge was a false treat: granular, too thick, and nutty without being truly nutty. It in no way delivered the deliciousness (read sweetness) of a scoop of chocolate ice cream or even a bowl of half melted frozen raspberries in syrup.

But like so many things that tasted weird, or too strong as a kid (mushrooms, buckwheat, cows tongue, blue cheese), that sesame flavor from long-ago halvah is now one of my favorites. I have since had really good halvah—made with spun sugar and light as air, almost as sweet as cotton candy. Now I will admit to being something of a tahini junkie. I don’t know how it happened, but somewhere along the way, I just started wondering if I could add tahini to just about everything. Sandwiches, salad dressings, granola, you name it. Michael Solomonov and his Zahav cookbook haven't helped the situation.

And so when that first cobbler urge struck me this late winter (it happens whenever rhubarb first appears in the groceries, I once again turned to tahini. Just to make sure I hammered home the sesame point, I added an un-shy amount of sesame seeds to make a rich cookie-ish crust for the sour-sweet fruit filling.


½ cup plus 2 tablespoons oat flour

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup sesame seeds

¼  tsp sea salt

3 ounces butter, cut into small pieces and frozen

2 ounces tahini, spread thin on parchment paper and frozen

½ cup and 2 tablespoons rolled oats


The Crumble:

2 large apples, peeled, core and cut into ¾ inch pieces

1 pound rhubarb, cut into ¾ inch pieces

1 pound strawberries, hulled, quartered

1 tangerine, zest and juice only

½ cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons butter, in small pieces

2 tablespoons minute tapioca (or your thickener of choice)

Ice cream or soft whipped cream to serve

Make the streusel.

In a food processor, pulse together the oat flour, sugar, cinnamon, sesame seeds and sea salt. add in the frozen butter and peel the tahini off the parchment and break it in pieces into the processor bowl. Pulse until the mixture is the consistency of coarse meal, not worrying if some of the butter lumps are bigger than that. Pulse in the oats, trying not to cut them up too small.  Chill or freeze until use. (you can do this a couple of days ahead).

Make the Crumble

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

In a large baking dish (like a 9” X 13” Pyrex), toss together the apples, rhubarb, strawberries, tangerine zest and juice brown sugar and butter.  Roast for about 25 minutes until the juices are very runny and the fruit softened and, ideally, a little browned on top. Scoop out about ¼ cup of the liquid and mix with the tapioca. Stir the tapioca slurry back into the fruit and transfer the fruit mixture to a 6 to 8 cup baking dish or non-reactive, oven proof skillet.  Working quickly, pile on the streusel and pack evenly across the top of the fruit. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Turn oven down to 375 F and bake until the liquids are thick and bubbly and the top of the streusel is richly browned, about 30 more minutes.  You may want to put a silpat lined baking sheet below the cobbler dish to keep any drips from scorching on the bottom of your oven.

Serve warm, with ice cream or soft whipped cream.



Super Hippie Food

I've been playing more with sprouts recently; now that gardening outside is a muddy drag, my countertop is a pretty good place for growing food. They are nice to eat, too. All that crunching and nuttiness just feels healthy; like a spell you are casting in the name of wholesome eating.   In this salad I threw in all my earthiest ingredients: alfalfa sprouts, radish, avocados, quinoa and some peanuts for texture.  The whole thing needed a little indulgence, and for that lemon infused olive oil was key, as was my Colleen Hennessey bowl!

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Okra at last.

I didn't grow up with okra, and remained unconvinced a few years ago: I had mostly encountered it in gumbos, many not that well crafted. But then I had okra--bhindi masala--at an Indian restaurant, and I finally understood it. Stir fried, the curry offset okra's signature slither with a crunchy external crunch. It distracted me with chilli heat, garlic, cumin and mustard seed. 

Tonight I made a sweet corn soup by steeping the cobs in simmering water to make a quick broth. I sautéed the kernels with onion, garlic, a serrano chilli, two mild peppers and a handful of green cherry tomatoes, and then blended the corn and the broth together.   It was lovely but sweet and one-note.

So I made an improvised stir fry of starting with coconut oil, garlic, 2 seeded serranos, cumin seed, mustard seed, and a pinch of dried ginger (I didn't have fresh around). I tossed in 3 cups of chunky okra slices, tossed it all around and then added a half cup of tomato puree and some salt. I cooked until the tomato sauce was reduced and sticky, and topped my sweet soup with the crunchy spicy okra! A great summer supper. Someday I'll craft a formal recipe, but for now, just remember all okra needs is a generous hand with the spices.

If you are in Seattle, where hot-weather crops like okra can be hard to find, look for the Yakima Valley's Alvarez Farms at the farmers markets: they are my go to people for chillies, eggplant, and other sun-loving produce.