I had dinner at Lucky & Joy in Clapton between lock downs (great restaurant!) and ordered some sesame noodles. They were not what I expected, which was basically a cold noodle side dish with sesame seeds, oil etc. It was a delicious dish of noodles combined with a wonderful creamy, sesame noodle dressing served with a deeply savoury chilli sauce, spring onions and fresh herbs.
I accosted the waiter at the end of the meal to ask what was in the sauce and he reeled off; sesame paste, sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, ginger and salt and other things he couldn’t remember. The sauce had elements of a tahini dressing I might make for a salad or to drizzle on vegetables….but this one had an edge. A rich and decadent one.
After a little research, I discovered there was a Chinese ‘tahini’ as I shall call it. The sesame seeds are toasted before being crushed. It had never occurred to me that there might be other sesame pastes, except for my familiar. Or that you might pair that in sauce with soy sauce rather than citrus.
This also coincided with me reading a book about Medieval Arab cookery, which referred to a sauce called ‘Murri,’ which was made from fermented barley flour. It is said to have tasted like soy sauce (essentially a fermented, salty, liquid seasoning). This was added to many dishes to provide umami flavour. This type of seasoning is not typical in the Arabic cookery of now.
I find the modernisation and evolution of a country or regions cuisine very interesting; food and the passing down of recipes is a strong link to our roots and can give us a sense of identity about who we are and where we come from, which is a wonderful thing. Yet dishes that we consider to represent or belong to us, would be unrecognisable to our ancestors and become lost or supplanted by access to new ingredients, kitchen equipment, convenience foods and the forgetting of old techniques and processes. Yet in my mind the dishes that we have now, as I know them were always there.
A Hummus of sorts does make an appearance in the Medieval Arab cookery book (in case you were wondering!) but the chickpeas are mixed with vinegar, spices, nuts and mashed into a thick paste, rolled out and left overnight to ferment. This fermentation of pulses aided digestibility and access to the nutrients contained within. A good example of a forgotten process, which is to the detriment of our health now. Although I am questioning how tasty that Medieval hummus sounds.
I went home and obviously decided to re create the sesame sauce. I have made it with 2 different varieties of squash. One (as pictured) is the spaghetti squash. When you stick a fork into this squash and twist, it breaks into ‘spaghetti’ strands (hence the name). For this, I therefore just cut it in half, baked the squash and drizzled the various sauces, spring onions etc on top and ate it like that. This type of squash is quite bland and therefore a good base for other flavours.
If using a denser squash (which will add more sweetness and a velvety touch to the dish) such as an onion, butternut or crown prince squash; peel it and cut the squash into 1 cm thick slices and roast along side some green veg to balance out the sweetness of these squash varieties.
Keep the seeds from inside the squash and roast with a little sesame oil and salt. These add a lovely savoury crunch.
If you cannot source the toasted sesame paste (check Asian supermarkets or online) then use a creamy tahini paste. The toasted sesame oil will still give the sauce that rich flavour. I used this method until I got hold of some and it is a great sub.
Time – 1 hour
Serves – 2 for dinner 4 people as a light lunch or starter
Large roasting tray
Measuring jug or bowl
Pestle and Mortar
1 seasonal squash – butternut, onion, pumpkin, spaghetti
200g of green beans or slices or cabbage, kale or other greens (optional)
Sprinkle of sea salt
1-3 tbsp sesame oil
4 tbsp sesame paste
1 tbsp of honey / maple syrup / date syrup
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 clove of garlic finely chopped
1/2 tsp of ginger powder or 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
3 tbsp soy sauce or coconut aminos
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar. Apple cider or white wine vinegar would also work.
6-8 tbsp of water depending on the thickness of your sesame paste
Chilli Sauce. You can buy chiu chow sauce or use another chilli sauce you have and improvise.
15 fresh red chili peppers
2 teaspoons salt
1 head of garlic
Neutral oil. I used light olive oil (amount depending on the size and depth of the pan you are using)
2 tbsp dried chilli flakes
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
Roasted squash and greens
Fresh herbs (coriander, mint etc)
Roasted squash seeds
Prep the chilli sauce if making it yourself and get it going in the pan. I followed this recipe https://thewoksoflife.com/homemade-chiu-chow-sauce/
Pre heat oven to 200 C fan.
If you using spaghetti squash, cut in half, save the seeds and set aside, drizzle with salt and sesame oil and roast in the oven for 45 minutes. 10 minutes before the end of cooking, toss the seeds with salt and sesame oil and roast in the same tray.
If using butternut, onion squash or another dense fleshed squash, peel and cut into 1 cm thick slices, toss with sea salt and a few tbsp of sesame oil and roast for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes remove from the oven and toss in the green beans or other veg adding a bit more oil if necessary and roast for twenty more minutes. If you are adding the seeds from the squash, toss in a little oil and sea salt and sprinkle over the veg 10 minutes before the end of cooking
Whilst the squash is cooking, make the sesame sauce. Add the tahini and peanut butter to the jug first and whisk in the water, vinegar, oil and soy sauce followed by the other ingredients. It should have the consistency of double cream. If it is too thick add a bit more water slowly. Too thin and add a bit more sesame paste.
Finish off your chilli sauce and chop the herbs and spring onions finely.
If using spaghetti squash – serve the squash on a wooden board with the sauces and herbs for adding as you go
If you have used sliced squash, toss in the sesame sauce and let it soak in for a few minutes. Serve in bowls whilst still warm, with little dabs of chilli sauce, spring onions, herbs and toasted seeds sprinkled on top.
The chilli sauce will keep for months in the fridge and the sesame sauce about 05 days. Use up the rest on some noodles.
Long live condiments.