Derived from the Arab word for “to grind,” tahini (ta-HEE-nee) is a paste made by crushing sesame seeds. It’s widely used throughout the Eastern world. In the Middle East, it flavors spreads like hummus and baba ganoush and serves as a condiment for the chickpea fritter, falafel. In the Mediterranean, it’s the main ingredient in the candy-like confection, halvah. In Japan, it shows up in dressings for vegetables. In China, its helps build sauces for noodles
Pick up a jar of tahini, and you’ll find a refreshing, reassuringly simple list of ingredients—just two words: sesame seed. It’s available in Asian markets or well-stocked groceries, but if you feel compelled to make your own, simply whirl raw or toasted sesame seeds in a food processor with just enough sesame oil to moisten the seed for grinding (about 1 part oil to 4 parts seed). Aside from recipe applications, experiment with tahini to flavor and thicken salad dressings. Mix it with garlic and lemon to drizzle over veggies, or blend with mayo and fresh dill or oregano as a spread for turkey burgers.
Sesame was cultivated in Egypt, and as a flavoring, it’s probably as old as the Sphinx. Sesame oil was prized by ancients because it stubbornly resists rancidity. When refrigerated, a jar of tahini may keep long enough for you to take it to your tomb—although solids eventually settle and you’ll need to do some vigorous stirring.
—By Jo Marshall, Creator of Cookcabulary