Can't live without: tahini
Turning tahini into a useful condiment, sauce, dressing or dip is a simple process, but it’s land-mined with options that can seem confusing to the newcomer. Because I get asked these questions all the time and, of course, because I live to serve, I’ll try and round up what I’ve learned and you can get on the tahini train. Toot toot!
Tahini is nothing more than finely ground sesame seeds. Because the seeds contain an oil, grinding them produces a paste. It’s exactly the same process as turning peanuts into peanut butter. The result is a very rich paste, delicious by itself in very small quantities – try a smear on your avocado toast – but usually appearing as an ingredient in other dishes and preparations.
You’ll see tahini labelled as hulled or unhulled. Unhulled tahini is made from the whole sesame seed and tends to be more bitter than the hulled variety. It’s a matter of taste, of course, but I recommend you start with hulled tahini and, if you have a craving for a flavour with more bite, switch to unhulled the next time around.
Then there’s the raw or roasted issue. I prefer the raw version. Tahini made from roasted sesame seeds is spectacularly delicious, although very strongly flavoured (think of how potent toasted sesame oil is) and so less versatile as a result.
I’m a sceptic most of the time about a lot of organic food, but absolutely not sceptical in the case of organic tahini. The seeds will have been hulled using nothing but water and nothing else needs to be added to it, at all.
It’s perfectly natural for the oil in tahini to separate out in the jar. In fact, if it doesn’t, it’s a sign that a chemical emulsifier has been added to it, so avoid that brand in the future. Just stick a spoon in and give it a good stir and it will be ready to use.
Tahini is essential in hummus – try my roasted garlic hummus if you want to cut to the chase for a really good, silky smooth one. It’s also used in Middle Eastern sweets, such as my mini muffin-tin version of coconut and honey semolina cakes. It’s beloved by vegans and with good reason, and I’ve found that any uses you’d normally turn to mayonnaise for can be made with tahini sauce – and often for the better.
The most common use for tahini in my kitchen is to make it up as a sauce – divine with grilled lamb cutlets – or as a dressing, as it appears in my roasted cauliflower with tahini and almonds. They’re made the same way – tahini, lemon juice and salt – just with different consistencies. Here’s how to make it.
Basic tahini sauce
3 tablespoons raw hulled organic tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon sea salt flakes
water, as required
Place the tahini and lemon juice in a small bowl. Stir together: it will seize up at first, becoming very thick, but push through it and keep stirring until it becomes smooth and creamy. Stir in the salt.
For the thickest sauce version, add a tablespoon of water and stir until well combined. Taste: there should be a good balance of sesame and lemon. If not, add a little of whatever’s required until it reaches a good balance.
To thin it down further, for use as a creamy salad dressing, add water a teaspoon at a time, stirring well after each addition.
You can also add ½ teaspoon of spice to add another dimension to your tahini sauce. Most commonly I use cumin, which sits beautifully with lemon, paprika or ras el hanout.