This Valentine’s Day, Hal and I opted to skip presents. But I wanted to have something up my sleeve just in case, since I had a hunch he wouldn’t be able to resist at least a little surprise. I was right, and he came home with the Joy the Baker cookbook and lovely flowers (neither count as “real” gifts in his mind, I learned), making me very glad I had planned ahead. Hal was a little confused when I opened the fridge and offered him a taste of something tan-ish out of a canning jar as his gift, but his confusion turned to glee when he realized what he was tasting: homemade spicy tahini mustard, based on a beloved treat at Talde, a favorite restaurant in our neighborhood. Not exactly the fanciest or most traditional heart day gift, but it went over big. The jar was empty in less than a week.
When Hal and I decided to move in together, we hoped to stay in our old shared neighborhood (nothing like meeting online and discovering that you live ten blocks apart!) of Cobble Hill / Carroll Gardens. We were seduced over to Park Slope by a gorgeous apartment, and as happy as I was to start our new adventure and explore a new hood, and as small of a distance as we were actually moving, I still felt a pang for the restaurants we were leaving behind. Then I reminded myself of all of the delicious spots we were moving closer to, and Talde was right at the top of the list. It’s officially a “casual Asian-American restaurant,” helmed by Dale Talde of Top Chef fame, but the food is so much more interesting than just “Asian-American.” We go for the wonton noodle soup with pork belly and a six minute egg, the oyster and bacon pad thai, and the Hawaiian bread buns. But mostly, I think, Hal goes for the house-made spicy tahini mustard.
When we go to Talde, Hal orders extra mustard before the first batch even hits the table. The restaurant traditionally serves it with their awesome pretzel dumplings, but he likes it on everything. And because he loves it so much, I started to think about asking the folks at Talde if they’d sell me a quart container full of the stuff. It felt like a perfect Valentine’s Day non present, too add a little something extra to our planned evening of Chinese delivery and champagne, but I felt increasingly embarrassed at the idea of calling up or stopping in and making the ask. To buy myself some time before calling, I started to google around, and up popped a recipe for pretzel dumplings…and tahini mustard. Jackpot! Never would I ever have thought of making mustard, but as it turned out the ingredient list was short and simple, and we already had everything but tahini on hand. Meant to be, really.
This is a no cook recipe, takes less than five minutes to put together, and lets you feel a bit like you’re doing a chemistry experiment in the kitchen. The crucial first step, which never previously occurred to me, is mixing dried mustard powder with water. Instant mustard! Wonders never cease. This base mixture is then flavored and thinned with both sesame and veggie oils, rice vinegar, salt and sugar, our addition of white pepper, and most importantly, tahini. This is whisked together into smooth, spicy, sesame-y goodness.
Or, at least, that’s what I hear. Confession time: I don’t actually like this stuff myself. I’m not a big fan of mustard to begin with, and this is serious varsity mustard. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to make it properly, what with not knowing what it should really taste like to count as good, but my sweet sister (whom we had taken to Talde during her December visit) gave me the key. If you have a teeny bit and feel like your sinuses are instantly clear, it’s right, she said. When I tried it I yelped “holy god!” outloud, and Joie assured me that that meant I had hit it.
Though I obviously don’t lap it up myself, I do strongly recommend this for the mustard (or general spicy food) lover in your life. It really does fancy up a night of delivery food, and is a great special substitute for regular old mustard. Plus, having it in your fridge just feels posh and diy goddess-y. For my next trick, I plan to make Talde’s special hot sauce. Once we learned that the mustard was house-made, and before I learned how simple it is to make, we breathlessly asked what secret ingredients made the hot sauce so extra deelish, expecting a complicated list of spices. Our waitress laughed and told us…”it’s just half sriracha and half Frank’s.” Sometimes the simplest things really are the best (and the most romantic).
spicy tahini mustard
(adapted from Talde, by way of the New York Times)
1/2 cup mustard powder
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sesame oil
Combine mustard powder and water, mix to fully combine (you’ve made mustard! crazy, right? now, let’s flavor it). Add the rest of the ingredients, and whisk together until smooth. If the mustard looks a little thick, keep right on mixing until everything is really blended together: it’ll smooth out.
The original recipe instructions recommend mixing everything together in a small bowl, covering it, and storing it in the fridge that way. I mixed mine right in a canning jar, which seemed much more convenient.