Supermarket Score: Tahini
Those of us familiar with the fabulousness that is tahini may know it as that rogue jar of peanut butter-ish spread that we pull out every few weeks to make hummus. I promise you, though, that this staple of Middle Eastern and North African kitchens has a wealth of potential far beyond a run-of-the mill cracker spread.
Tahini is an Omega-3 & Omega-6 rich paste made from ground sesame seeds that can often be found in the same area of the supermarket where olives, capers, and salad dressings are shelved. Don’t be alarmed if you pick it up and it looks separated – that’s completely normal! Just like natural peanut butter, the solids will separate from the oils over time. What I like to do when first opening a new jar is give the contents a quick whiz in the blender to bring it all back together. Return it to its container and it will stay homogenous (in the refrigerator) for several weeks.
Tahini has a flavor that can be somewhat chalky on its own, so it often has a go with partners like olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice. Once cut a bit, its true nutty, earthy flavor adds depth to many more edible delicacies than a bowl of hummus or street cart pita. Check out these three new ideas for getting a bit more tahini onto your table.
One of my favorite neighborhood restaurants near my house makes an amazing tahini-soy dressing. While a modest attempt at imitation, my version complements the tahini with tamari, which is all together delicious and reminiscent of a late night show duet. To make about 1 cup of dressing, in a bowl whisk together 1/2 cup tahini, 3 tablespoons tamari, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, a few squirts of sriracha, the juice of a lime, and 3 to 4 tablespoons of water. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and the consistency with a bit more water as needed; store in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. This dressing is light enough for a simple romaine salad, but I like it dressed on some hearty kale with toasted almonds and chopped dates.
Give your standard issue sandwich spread a kick in the butt by cutting it with some tahini. Mix together equal parts mayo & tahini, stir in a few squirts of mustard, and pair it with a grilled portabella mushroom for a surprisingly satisfying meatless lunch or dinner sandwich. (As a side note, tahini reacts in a funny way to having liquid like water or oil added to it. When just a little bit is added, it will seize up at first. Keep adding the liquid slowly and you’ll see the texture thin out. As it sits it may thicken back up a bit, so add a few splashes at a time to adjust it to a spreadable consistency).
SPICED-UP CHICKEN SALAD
Spring boarding off from the sandwich spread idea, next time you’re making chicken (or even tuna) salad, cut in some tahini. Swap out about 1/4 of your dressing’s mayo or vinaigrette’s olive oil with tahini and enjoy an Omega-3 boost (and great new flavor combination) to your lunchbox. Looking for a bit of recipe inspiration? Try adding some sesame love to Rachael’s delicious Cold Chicken Curry with Toasted Almonds and Crystallized Ginger.
Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has, probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary teams for Food Network stars Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, Bobby Deen and Paula Deen, he now works as a food stylist and producer in NYC by day and a food writer and recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following his latest posts on Instagram at @patrickwdecker or visiting his website at patrickwdecker.com.