Chai-Spiced Date + Apple Crisp
It is not very often that I dive right into talking about the food in this space. Usually I start with some ramblings on a vaguely related subject before I bring up the recipe that originally seduced you with the help of a meticulously styled photograph (or so I hope). This week, though, it is all about the recipe, because how it came to be is a sort-of metaphor for the way I live my daily life. Attempting to bring two separate things together. Merging worlds, blending cultures, my past greeting my present.
Apple crisp reminds me of quintessential fall as a child growing up in Minnesota. Going apple picking as a family at a local farm, perched on my dad’s shoulders to pick the highest reddest ones we could find, then heading home to stew them with cinnamon and butter until the whole house smells like heaven, and finally baking them with oats, more butter and more cinnamon and enjoying a giant slice of crisp before running outside again to jump into a pile of raked-up leaves. It is amazing how a simple dessert can conjure up so much vivid memory and sweet nostalgia.
However, I don’t exactly live in that same world anymore, where memories exist visibly around me like friendly ghosts. I am in a completely different space that I have grown to call home, making new memories with different textures, smells, and tastes. Apple picking turns into bustling souks, wonderfully noisy and full of energy, color, and endless haggling. Jumping into leaf-piles becomes an afternoon walk by the seaside, with the bright September sun still beating down on my shoulders. Apple crisp becomes halwa, different varieties of small cookies and sweets made from nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.
Jeanette Winterson wrote in her memoir,
“home is much more than shelter; home is our center of gravity.”
If this is the case, then I am constantly orbiting in a figure eight around two different gravity centers, trying to inch them closer and closer together. I try to merge these two dualities through writing. Through choreography. Through language. And, of course, through food.
I suppose I have made dishes that are more directly “fusion food.” Throwing dates into something does not make it inherently Moroccan. However, for me personally, it adds that touch of bringing my new home a little bit closer to the old memories. Chopped local dates mixed with slices of bright red gala apple. I tossed in some warming homemade chai spice (recipe from Lee, a Minnesota blogger, appropriately enough) because originally, I was thinking about traditional Moroccan halwa d’tmar that are filled with date paste and infused with cinnamon and clove. In the end I decided to take it a step further and throw in the entire sweet spice drawer. Plus, autumn back home was usually when I started opting for frothy chai lattes at the local coffee shop instead of iced tea.
The chai spices, dates, and apples blend together beautifully in this crisp, sweetened with just a tad of maple syrup and topped with a naturally gluten-free buttery oat mixture. Serve it warm with a scoop of leftover summer ice cream or a dollop of coconut whip and promptly fall into a dreamy, nostalgic autumnal daze.
Chai-Spiced Date + Apple Crisp
Makes about 9-12 servings, gluten-free + vegan optional
Adapted loosely from this recipe by Ambitious Kitchen
3/4 cup (100g) oats
1/3 cup (60g) millet flour
1/3 cup (80g) light brown sugar or coconut sugar
1/4 tsp chai spice
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup (75g) cold butter or vegan butter, chopped into cubes
5-6 medium apples (1 kilo) - any variety, peeled, cored + thinly sliced
1 cup (125g) chopped dates
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp chai spice
5 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat your oven to 350ºF (175ºC) and butter an 8x8 or 9x9 inch baking dish (or roughly equivalent in size).
To make the topping, whisk together all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Using your fingers, add the chopped cold butter and work through the flour and oats, mixing and pressing it together until a crumbly mixture forms. Keep in the fridge while you make the filling.
In a large bowl, toss together all of the filling ingredients. Take the crisp topping out of the fridge and add about 1/4 cup of the mixture to the apples. Add the filling to the prepared baking dish, pressing it down lightly, then evenly sprinkle the oat crisp on top.
Bake for about 45-55 minutes or until golden brown on top. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.