Tahini

...your new favourite ingredient

Happy Sunday!

Hope you’re keeping sane and occupied, I’ve been working my way through my cookbooks and doing my best to try one new recipe each day. This made unwinding after work pretty exciting and dinner time special every night. My vow for 2021: not buy a new cookbook until I’ve cooked at least 10 recipes from the book I bought before. Watch me…

Today’s issue is all about Tahini, and I must say I am VERY excited! Tahini is in my top 5 ingredients and it’s a frequently requested ingredient by you guys. The first time I ever bought tahini, the jar was left abandonded in my fridge for MONTHS. I had no idea what to do with it, but these day, we go through a jar a month. Sometimes more.

Tahini is an incredibly versatile ingredient that can be used in savoury and sweet dishes, it’ll add extra depth to drinks and can be turned into an outstanding dip or a sauce.

ABOUT TAHINI 

What is Tahini? Tahini is a paste made of sesame seeds. 

What does it taste like? Tahini has a strong nutty, earthy flavour and can often have a bitter note at the end. 

Where does sesame grow? Sesame seeds grow on a blossoming plant, it splits open and pops when it’s ripe, revealing seeds within. I did not know this until Katya sent over her beautiful illustrations! 

The sesame seed has been cultivated in Egypt since at least 2 AD. Tahini paste dates a long way back and the Middle East claims its origins of the ingredient. Tahini came from Persia where it was called “Ardeh.” From there it moved to Israel. For a very long time, only the rich and wealthy could afford to make tahini. In some cultures, it was used as currency. 

Tahini is mentioned as an ingredient of Hummus Kasa, a recipe transcribed in an anonymous 13th-century Arabic cookbook, KitabWasf al-Atima al-Mutada (wish list!).

Tahini is found in Israeli, Middle Eastern, African, Chinese, Japanese, Iranian, Turkish and Korean cuisines. But it’s Middle-Eastern cooking (particularly the Levant region encompassing Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan) that has helped grow its popularity across the globe. It is the Arab language that gives tahini – or more accurately tahinnyya – its name.

In Turkey, tahini (tahin ) is mixed with pekmez to make a dish called tahin-pekmez. In 

Iraq and some Persian Gulf countries, tahini is mixed with date syrup (rub) to make a sweet dessert usually eaten with bread.

In Cyprus, tahini is used as dipping for bread and in souvlaki rather than tzatziki, which is customary in Greece (this is probably when I had my first taste of tahini, when I very briefly lived in Cyprus).

In Syria, tahini is a staple ingredient that is used in a variety of popular dishes. It is used in numerous dips and spreads, including hummus, and is also served as a condiment with falafel and other dishes, and sometimes used in desserts, sweetened with date syrup.

In the Palestinian territories, and specifically in Gaza, there are two varieties of tahina: the first is the standard beige-coloured one; the second is known as "red tahina", named after the deep rust colour that distinguishes it from its more widely known cousin. The color of red tahina is achieved by a different and lengthier process of roasting the sesame seeds, and the resulting taste is more intense. Red tahina is used in Gazan dishes such as Sumagiyya and salads.

Migrants from the Middle East and the Mediterranean brought this wonderful ingredient along to the West. 

Tahini has many health benefits (when consumed in moderation). Tahini can help control blood pressure, prevent anaemia and help form blood clots. It’s an antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties. It’s great for you unless you are allergic to sesame! The ancient Greeks used sesame for medical purposes. Hippocrates, apparently, used to recommend sesame for its nutritional value. India’s traditional medicine uses the sesame seed to nourish. 

QUICK SUGGESTIONS FOR USE

Savoury:

Sweet:

Tahini works soooo well in cookies, brownies and cakes. I wish I could include every single recipe in here today, but I’ll pick a few and then you can go off and explore further.

Drinks:

  • Hot Chocolate. But, make it a white hot chocolate and a swirl of Tahini right at the end. Upgrade it to a grown-up version with some Bailey’s. 

  • If you fancy a Martini with a twist, try this Chocolate Tahini Martini

  • Very excited to try this Vegan Banana Tahini Smoothie

Even more tahini recipes: a selection from my favourite Ottolenghi, 34 Tahini-themed recipes from BBC Good Food

RECIPE OF THE WEEK


Creamy Tahini Pasta with a Lick of Heat 

This is for all of my friends who are doing Veganuary, and also for those of you who need a quick mid-week dinner that doesn’t require much effort. Just a few favourite ingredients and 10-15 minutes of your time. The result is a creamy, umami-rich pasta sauce. 

Ingredients: 

Serves 1 (increase quantities if you’re feeding more people) 

  • 100g pasta of your choice 

  • Salt 

  • 1 tbsp Tahini 

  • 1 tsp Miso 

  • 1 tsp Sriracha (or more to taste) 

  • 1 tbsp Lemon Juice and some zest

  • 1 tsp Nutritional Yeast (optional) 

  • Handful of Spinach 

To garnish:

  • Sesame Seeds 

  • Pul Biber/Chilli Flakes/Urfa 

Method: 

  1. In your favourite pasta pan, boil some water and add salt (you want it salty like the ocean!). Add the pasta and set your timer. 

  2. In a small bowl, mix together the tahini, miso, sriracha, lemon juice and zest. I use a tiny whisk for this. 

  3. Once the pasta is ready, drain the pasta but reserve about 1/4 cup of pasta water (alternatively scoop out the pasta water before draining). 

  4. Add this pasta water to your tahini/miso/sriracha mix and stir well until it comes together. Don’t try and do this with cold water as tahini will seize and won’t come together. Taste the mixture, if you need salt, add some salt to the mix. 

  5. In the same pan you boiled your pasta in ( I am trying to save you from washing up), mix the spinach and the pasta over low heat for a minute or two. Until the spinach wilts. 

  6. Now add your tahini sauce, stir through and warm it up briefly, add the nutritional yeast, if using. 

  7. Transfer to a plate, sprinkle with sesame seeds and your choice of chilli flakes and there you go - dinner is ready. 

WHERE TO BUY

You can buy Tahini in most supermarkets. Also, check out Belazu for Black Tahini made with Black Sesame Seeds

HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN

Making tahini isn’t difficult and the end result is so worth it. If you want to make your own, check out this blog

A lovely newsletter: Just to Delight, beautiful writing and stunning presentation. There are love and obsession for ingredients and there’s a weekly menu if you’re struggling for inspiration. The first issue that landed in my inbox was all about butter, and I currently have every kind of Abernethy Butter in my basket ( I am easily persuaded).

More to read: Who invented Hummus? The Story of Al Arz (Tahini Factory) The Spy who Loved Tahini

That’s it for this week, so put that abandoned jar to good use and make something delicious. Make tahini a staple ingredient in your home!

Anya xx

Next week in Appetite: Harissa (I aim to make it your go-to cupboard essential).

If you enjoyed this issue, you can buy my Editor a Ko-Fi (apparently paying him in borscht isn’t enough).

P.S. My boyfriend is my editor.