Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Spinach with Sesame sauce

Tel Aviv was designed as a tapestry. A series of boulevards cross and intersect the city and much like a gorge those seem to gather and collect the street life, doubling as an intimate communal space and a place for interaction. This is where cyclists, pedestrians, coffee drinkers, dog walkers, pensioners, strollers, stoners, and first date-ers all share a narrow urban stretch.

I live close by to such a boulevard, though far enough that I don’t live in it, as such. Four small huts are strategically spaced on it: One sells fruit and vegetable juices of all kinds, colors and seasons. I’ve been eying the cold coffee and banana drink, and would have tried it already had it not been for the copious amount of sugar it contains.

The second hut is always busy but I recall the fresh seasonal salad consisting of mostly canned vegetables.

The third is ‘Friday brunch’ hut. I think it must be the free seat, the weekend newspapers and it's relative isolation from the bustling boulevard. Just what I need on a Friday.

The fourth café serves good coffee and occupies tables and chairs that belong to the boulevard. The miniature picnic tables nailed to the ground are co shared with locals and passers-by, and on a mild summer evening like the ones we’ve been experiencing for the past week (on a what should be a cold February), you want to seat outside with friends and enjoy a cup of tea in the night breeze. So we made tea, took the teapot and grabbed a table. Conveniently we ordered some cookies from the café and at one point an ice cream tub from the nearby all night store made its way to our table.

Moments like this remind me why I love this place and why it is like no other.

With this weather stews and soups are out the window. Its back to light food that’s better suited to the current climate. There’s a particular variety of spinach that has caught my palette. Locally it is called “Turkish spinach”. Its has soft, large flat leaves, its sweeter then the ‘meatier’ kind and you can also eat the stalks. When blanched it exudes a luminescent green color and its flavor intensifies. Since most of the food I enjoy makes a great companion to a pure sesame paste (ie. Tahini), spinach is no exception and it was a joyous moment when I discovered a Japanese recipe that celebrated this combination.

The recipe calls for making the paste from the seeds, which replace fat and oil rarely used in Japanese cooking. Having a suribachi at hand helps, though a regular mortar and pestle (or an electric grinder) will do the job.

This is a simple dish to make and if you use a good, high quality Tahini the sesame paste-making phase can be skipped, while the spinach can be substituted with other vegetables like green beans or roasted sweet potatoes.

Spinach with Sesame sauce

(Recipe taken from yasuko fukuoka “Classic Japanese”)

Serves 4


450 gram Spinach

Sesame sauce

1/3 cup sesame seeds (I used Natural brown sesame seeds)

2 Tbs Shoyu (Japanese soy sauce)

1½ Tsp caster sugar

1½ Tbs Dashi stock or the same amount of water with a pinch of dashi-no-moto (Japanese stock)

Make the sesame sauce. Grind the sesame seeds in a suribachi , a mortar and pestle or an electric grinder if you must.

Transfer the crushed seeds to a small bowl and stir in the shoyu, sugar and dashi stock. When mixed it should be a thick paste.

Blanch the spinach for 30 seconds in boiling water.

Drain and cool under running cold water, to stop the spinach from cooking any further.

Drain again and lightly squeeze out excess water.

Gently mix the sesame sauce with the spinach. Serve garnished with dried Yuzu, sesame seeds and shredded Nori (available in specialty food stores selling Japanese products).


To make a different type of sauce the sesame seeds can be substituted with walnuts or peanuts.

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