Tired, pale, wrinkled — it’s a sad lot of vegetables gracing the farmers’ market tables these days.
But I’m not judging. Those very three words came to mind as I looked in the mirror this morning. I could use a little help right now — some sun, some fresh air, spring — and so could those vegetables. And I’ve got just the thing.
I had read about this tahini sauce in Jerusalem, where it’s used in various places, most notably in a recipe for roasted butternut squash with pine nuts and za’atar, but I never felt compelled to make it until I read this note under my friend’s Instagram photo: “I will never tire of this: roasted CSA root veg and squash, tahini with lemon and za’atar.”
I have since been making the dressing, a combination of tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic, every few nights and roasting everything I can get my hands on from cauliflower to broccoli, carrots to parsnips, onions to cabbage. And when I’ve run out of vegetables to roast, I’ve exhumed what’s left in my vegetable drawer — an endive head, a grapefruit, some pea shoots — and drizzled it on those, too.
I find this dressing, especially in combination with the za’atar, to be irresistible but I know tahini is not everyone’s favorite flavor. In the preface to the tahini sauce recipe in Jerusalem, in fact, Ottolenghi warns that for some people the flavor of tahini spoils everything it touches, from a juicy kabob to a fresh salad.
If you share this feeling, this sauce might not be for you, but if you are on the fence, I highly recommend giving it a go, because once you discover how this tahini dressing awakens those languishing vegetables, you might stop worrying about spring’s arrival altogether. And once you see how the lemon brightens those roasted roots, you might find yourself heading back to the market on a mission for carrots and parsnips or anything looking especially tired, pale and wrinkled. And once you see how the za’atar enlivens those caramelized cabbage wedges, you might find yourself rubbing the sauce all over your face, hoping it might work similar miracles there, too.
I have not, to be clear, tried this. Hoping one of you might for me? Just a thought.
For the vegetables:
- a mix of the saddest vegetables you can find at the market: cabbage, carrots, parsnips are all great options; onions, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, cauliflower, broccoli — anything, really — could work here
- olive oil
- kosher salt
- freshly cracked black pepper
For the tahini sauce:
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- 3 Tbsp. tahini
- 1½ Tbsp. lemon juice (about ½ a lemon)
- 2 Tbsp. water
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 to 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup, optional
- za’atar (to taste)
- nice sea salt (like Maldon)
- freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 450ºF.
- Peel vegetables if appropriate. Cut them into uniform pieces — sticks or cubes or whatever you like. Cut cabbage into wedges keeping the core intact if possible.
- Spread vegetables onto a sheetpan. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with olive oil (2 to 3 tablespoons should do it) to coat. Toss gently, then spread in an even layer. Roast for 20 minutes. Check, and give them a stir if you wish. Roast for another 15 to 20 minutes or until nicely caramelized. Note: If your cabbage is getting too brown, you can always remove it after 30 minutes or so, then return the pan to the oven to allow the carrots and parsnips or whatever else you are roasting finish cooking.
- Meanwhile, make the dressing: In a small bowl, stir together the olive oil, tahini (being sure to stir the tahini itself first to make sure it is emulsified), lemon juice, water, salt, and garlic. Taste. Add the maple syrup, if desired. (I like this dressing with a touch of sweetness.) Taste. Adjust with more salt, if necessary, and thin out with more water if necessary, too — the sauce should be pourable or the consistency of a traditional dressing.
- Transfer roasted vegetables to a platter. Taste one. Sprinkle vegetables with a pinch of nice salt if necessary and more pepper if desired. Spoon dressing overtop — depending how many vegetables you made, you likely won’t need all of the dressing. Sprinkle za’atar to taste overtop if using.
Here is another one to help you through these last few months of winter veg: Bon Appetit’s parsnips with chili butter. They are SO good: