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Butternut Squash & Tahini Spread: Let’s Work Together

The other day, as I was running late to an appointment, I saw a parking spot and immediately pulled a quick U to try to grab it, just as another car opted for the same position. DAMMIT, I thought, in a not-so-unusual moment of road rage. We were about to square off; me in my gray Jetta and a gentleman in a conveniently small Mini Cooper. This situation ranks high on a city dweller’s pet peeve list because, let’s be honest: there are more cars in San Francisco than parking spots.

The man in the Mini Cooper rolled down his window, presumably to give me a piece of his mind. I yelled through my window that I was hoping I could squeeze in behind him. He not only proceeded to pull his car up to the furthest edge of the driveway in front of him, but also hopped out of his vehicle to direct me into my spot. It was a tight fit for both of our cars, but we did it. After we had both parked, the man gave me a quick thumbs up and we both were on our way. I realized neither of us really spoke to each other; mostly there were just a lot of hand gestures and understanding nods. Certainly this man had no idea that it was my first time driving with the baby by myself and I was firmly clutching a pacifier in my coat pocket as I proceeded to gingerly push a stroller with one hand while trying to balance my purse and diaper bag on one shoulder. Why I still refuse to carry just one bag still confounds me. This nice stranger wasn’t aware of any of this. And I had no idea if he was going to the hospital to spend time with his new niece, to work at the nearest cafe, or to pick up his prescription. We both just really wanted that parking spot.

You’ve probably heard it before: city dwellers aren’t often the neighborly sorts. Even though we live in much closer quarters than those who reside in suburban homes, we rarely go out of our way to drop off casseroles or watch each other’s cats. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, but typically it’s an ‘everyone for himself’ type of environment. I’m always pleasantly surprised when my dry cleaning lady asks about how the baby is sleeping, my across-the-hall neighbor lets me borrow an extra chair when we have company, or my nearest coffee shop spots me a buck when I’m short on cash for a cup of coffee. And yet, increasingly, I’ve noticed it happening more and more. For every apathetic soul — the young men who don’t give up their seats to the elderly on the trains or the snooty coffee shop employees who turn their noses up when I ask for low-fat milk — there are plenty of people who are the opposite of cold and insular. In small and big ways, people want to create a community beyond themselves, to help each other. Find parking spots, and other things.

This story reminds me of the recipe I’m sharing today for two reasons. One, because it comes from a cookbook called Jerusalem, named for a city rich with history, whose inhabitants have, over time, made both positive and negative strides to work together. Ultimately, the book highlights the unique culinary influences of its two largest populations — the Jews and Arabs — and how, together, they form an incredibly beautiful tapestry, both cultural and epicurean. Second, this recipe combines two ingredients I wouldn’t specifically pair: tahini and butternut squash. Together, they make a deliciously nutty and slightly sweet spread that’s an inspired alternative to traditional hummus.

Butternut Squash & Tahini Spread
*adapted from Jerusalem

1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into rough chunks
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons of tahini paste
1/2 cup of Greek yogurt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon of black and/or white sesame seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons of date syrup*, plus more for additional garnish
1/2 teaspoon of salt

*You can substitute maple syrup or molasses

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Combine the squash, oil, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. Toss to coat, then transfer to a roasting pan and cover tightly with foil. Roast for about an hour, stirring once. Remove the squash from the oven and let cool.
2. Once it’s cool, transfer the squash to a food processor. Add the tahini, yogurt and garlic and pulse until the mixture forms a rough paste (the authors recommend not processing the spread until it’s smooth, though I found it to be delicious regardless of texture).
3. Transfer spread to a serving dish or container, drizzle with date syrup and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve alongside little toasts or bread.

Musical Pairings: Youth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse + Butternut Squash & Tahini Spread

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Posted by Kasey

Kasey is the food editor and co-founder of Turntable Kitchen. She loves dark chocolate, warm crusty bread, and traveling to new places. She speaks Russian, but does not like vodka.

  • i love this pairing! ottolenghi is genius for putting together things that you think shouldn’t belong together.

  • Jeanine

    what an incredible story, wow :). And wow for this spread, I think I might try it later today with a lingering sweet potato I have in my kitchen.

  • Great post! I can totally picture it happening 🙂 and this recipe is so delicious. I’m glad I got to preview it a while ago!

  • cheekychilli

    Loved your story. I’ve lived in this city for about a decade now. I love it and people are nice, but that absence of neighbourliness in general does make me wonder. I’ve concluded it is because everyone is in transition with the lack of permanence of a rental and building relationships takes time and effort. Just like you, I have been happily surprised to find the exceptions to this. Makes it so much nicer to live here. I’ve also found that having cookies helps mitigate the time to get to know people somewhat.
    The spread looks so delicious!

  • Kasey, you are out and about with the babe! Oh I remember those early days…. And all the gear!

    I’m so glad the world ( in the form of your fellow driver) welcomed you and treated you guys with the kindness a new mom deserves.



  • Megan Gordon

    YES! I bookmarked this recipe in Jerusalem and have yet to get to it … now I’m really, really going to have to give it a go (Because I live with one Lebanese Sam, we always have a GIGANTIC tub of tahini on hand, so we’re ready to roll at any given time with hummus-type recipes). Sidenote: you’re blogging! you’re amazing!

  • That sounds like one of the most fortuitous SF parking situations ever. I remember trying to find a spot for my gigantic old Volvo station wagon around Russian Hill–no, thank you. So glad I don’t have to do that anymore. Anyway, this spread sounds so good! I got a copy of Jerusalem for holidays, but have yet to cook from it–clearly, I need to get on that.

  • Nicole(FoodBlogLife)

    I really can relate to your story… of luck with the lovie! This looks absolutely gorgeous!

  • Brian Samuels

    Living in a city can definitely be challenging. Sometimes I’d just love to have a little peace and quiet and a yard to let the pup run around in. But then I think of all the benefits of living in a city and I’m just not quite ready to move to the ‘burbs.

    On a separate note, I love this recipe! What a fabulous, seasonal spread.

  • I know! Sam knows his Middle Eastern food 🙂 I’m so impressed by Jerusalem – so many delicious and unique recipes to try! And, thank you! Finding time to blog gives me balance and reminds me that I’m still me; it feels really, really good.

  • I agree – I love pretty much everything Ottolenghi.

  • Ohhh, I bet sweet potatoes + tahini would be a magical combo. x

  • I wish it happened more often! Can’t believe just how long ago it was when I first made this. I do have a butternut squash sitting on my counter and a jar of tahini in the cupboard…it’s calling out to me!

  • Thanks, Sharmila. I think your observation is spot on – relationships take time and people do move a lot. Sounds like we’re in similar situations, though – too bad we’re not neighbors! I’m glad you’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the kindness of strangers in our fair city. Hope it keeps happening more and more.

  • I am! It’s quite the site. I am still clumsy when it comes to figuring out how to deal with fussiness in public, or feeding her, but I’m just doin’ it and trying to overcome these fears. I’m glad the universe has been putting out good vibes 🙂 Hope the cookbook is coming along well! xoxo

  • Yikes! I can only imagine the headache. We don’t have a parking spot, so every day is a challenge, but somehow, we’ve managed for the last 2 years (before that, I didn’t have a car). You should definitely explore Jerusalem!

  • Thanks, Nicole!

  • I think we all daydream about the same things (big, open white kitchens, backyard parties…). I do think the grass is always greener on the other side, and I often remind myself just how wonderful city living can be. I’m not quite ready for the burbs either 🙂

  • cheekychilli

    Being neighbours with wonderful people that have a great love in food and music, just like we do. Now that would have been magnificent!

  • Oh I can so relate! I love living in a city and, for the most part, I love the anonymity that it brings but those little moments when you come together when a complete stranger with a common goal or to help each other always make the day seem that little brighter don’t they?

  • Can I tell you that I may just be obsessed with Jerusalem? I’ve only made 2 recipes from the book, but they’ve both been spectacular. This past weekend I cooked up an Open Kibbeh and the Baby Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds. SO good. This one looks darn tasty too 🙂

  • I loved your tale of city people helping each other out. I find that a big part of the challenge is that we try and ignore everyone else to insulate ourselves emotionally, and it can be hard to snap out of it when someone’s in need, or if you just need directions. I am also really excited to try this recipe! I love tahini and this combo sounds excellent.

  • stella starkist

    This recipe sounds so super good, I definitely need to make this. I’ve been obsessed with tahini lately. I’ve been putting it in my smoothie every morning and just makes it that much better. YUM!!

  • Yay, kind people rule! and I love the idea of this recipe — my kind of flavors.

  • Diana @ Brooklyn Atlas

    This looks great, Kasey! Jerusalem is still on my list of cookbooks to buy. Do you know how long the spread would keep in the fridge?

  • Thanks, Diana! You know, I can’t say for sure, but I ate mine for several days.

  • Totally! I have to agree that the anonymity is quite nice and freeing! But random acts of kindness are truly appreciated, especially when they’re unexpected!

  • Aren’t we all?! I, too, have made several recipes from Jerusalem and loved them all. It’s such a treasure. I’ll have to try that Open Kibbeh!

  • I totally agree with you – I do it myself! It’s easy to throw in headphones and just tune out, but it’s so nice when we tune in.

  • For sure! Glad we’re on the same flavor page, Aida 🙂

  • I have never thought to put tahini in a smoothie – genius!

  • Renee

    Reading this IN Jerusalem, the city:)
    Don’t want to make this dairy, think it would work without yogurt?

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