Unfortunate-Looking Dessert Proves Quite Tasty

"I'm not eating that. It looks disgusting."

My boyfriend shoved the Styrofoam bowl back across the table at me, its contents jiggling slightly as he did. Inside the bowl were five spheres coated in a fine peanut dust. One of them was oozing a dark, black substance. I could see why he wouldn't find them particularly appealing, judging on sight alone.

It's difficult to describe exactly what they were other than that; even Gelato Cup (9889 Bellaire, Suite 108, 713-271-1082) had them listed on the menu awkwardly as "Sesame Peanut Rice Balls." The menu also indicated that they contained black sesame paste. This in conjunction with the peanut was why I ordered them: two of my favorite flavors together.

I had expected, I suppose, to receive a bowl of jian dui, the familiar sesame seed balls filled with sweet bean paste -- or, in this case, black sesame paste. That's even what the dessert looked like on Gelato Cup's menu. What I received was something entirely different.

Yes, I had to capture this on video.

The balls that came out were warm and soft and had the jiggly texture of something sort of like Jell-O -- but not quite. We stared at them for a bit before the peanut smell became overwhelmingly tasty and I had to eat one. I began to cut into one and realized the jiggle was from mochi, that glutinous rice cake that I usually eat in shaved ice or surrounding small balls of ice cream. I'd never seen it warm like this.

My boyfriend balked as I continued cutting. "They look like testicles!" he said, wincing in sympathy as my fork pierced the thin, soft skin and black sesame paste spurted out from each incision. He finally looked away and became suddenly and keenly interested in his bowl of strawberry cheesecake gelato. A bowl of comfort. Not a bowl of weird, testicle-shaped things oozing black liquid.

Despite all of this, the dessert was wonderful. Truly. I know that not all Western palates fully embrace the idea of sweet beans and nuts as dessert items, but they're certainly far healthier than the super-sugary, non-nutritive desserts we normally consume. And there's a lot to be said for the mild, smooth, slightly nutty, subtly sweet taste of red bean paste or black sesame gelato (which Gelato Cup also happens to sell).

The peanut flour dusting the exterior of the chewy mochi shells housed that lovely black sesame taste, a dark and vaguely musty sweetness mixing with the bright peanut flavor in each bite. I even got my boyfriend to eat some. And after he got past the many unfortunate juvenilisms this dessert has going for it -- balls, covered with nuts, that look like testicles -- he admitted that it was pretty damn good.

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Katharine Shilcutt