Tahini is ground sesame seeds, which sounds simple. But in the hands of skilled cooks across the Arab and Mediterranean world, tahini can show its beauty in numerous ways.
The most common use of tahini in this country is hummus, where the ground sesame paste adds richness and gloss to the ground chickpeas. It also provides similar balance to the eggplant’s sharpness in babaganouj, or roasted eggplant dip.
The dairylike creaminess makes it a natural for people who are avoiding dairy. During Lent, Greeks make tahinosoupa – you guessed it, tahini soup – a simple soup with pasta and lemon.
It’s not just for lunch and dinner, but dessert too. The Greeks will use it in cake, though, and the Israelis will make another dessert, halvah parfait, bearing its distinctly nutty richness.
Stir it up: The solids in tahini tend to settle, leaving a layer of sesame oil on top of the jar. Like a jar of natural peanut butter, it might require some blending to get the oil mixed back in before you measure it out. Since it’s oily, use a jar in a few months or keep it in the refrigerator to retard oxidation.
After hummus, tahini’s most famous use is as tarator, or tahini sauce. It’s the Ranch dressing of the Arab world. Not only does it enliven falafel, shawarma and kabob sandwiches, it can make a plate of plain steamed vegetables tasty enough to enjoy.
The following recipe is from local author Faith Gorsky’s “An Edible Mosaic.” As with most simple recipes, you should play with it a little to find a version you enjoy most. More lemon or less, more garlic or less, more water until it’s as thin as you like, and of course always salt to taste.
Tahini sauce (Tatator)
½ cup (120 g) tahini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ cup (125 ml) plus 2 tablespoons water
2 cloves garlic, crushed in a mortar and
pestle with ½ teaspoon salt
Whisk together the tahini and lemon juice in a medium bowl. (The sauce will thicken).
Whisk in the water drop by drop at first, and then in a thin drizzle. (The sauce will thicken even more at first, and then thin out.)
Stir in the garlic and refrigerate until serving. (Or use a food processor.)
(For a thicker version that can serve as a dip, omit about 2 tablespoons water, and add ½ bunch fresh parsley leaves, minced. Both versions keep well for up to 5 days in the refrigerator.)
On the Web: Check out how easy tarator with steamed cauliflower is at video.buffalonews.com/player