Newborn Tahini - Perfect texture - ©

Mediterranean Mysteries: Tahini

At the heart of many great Mediterranean dishes is the humble, ubiquitous Sesame Seed. And, in the Middle East and North Africa, this staple us often seen in the form of Tahini – a very smooth paste of ground Toasted Sesame Seeds with added Sesame Oil and other goodies.

Baba Gannouj - © takaokun - on flickr.comClassic Baba Gannouj: Just one of the Middle Eastern delights in which
Tahini plays an essential role!

Used to be, in days gone by, that Tahini was a labour-intensive delicacy. Someone had to pound and grind Sesame Seeds in a mortar and pestle until they formed a smooth paste. The ideal texture is, actually, very much like a ‘natural’ Smooth Peanut Butter.

Tahini is used as an ingredient in many North African Middle eastern dishes, notably Hommus – the popular Chick Pea dip often served beside Tabouleh Salad. And don’t forget the classic Baba Ganouj!

You can buy Tahini in jars, just like peanut Butter, in most Middle Eastern supermarkets. But it’s fun to make your own, especially if you have a food processor or a robust blender!

I like to toast a cup of Sesame Seeds in a dry frying pan until they turn golden, then place them in a blender or food processor (with the chopper blade), along with a nice slurp of Olive Oil and a teaspoon or so of Sesame Oil and liquify. It helps, depending on the size of your Blender Pitcher or processor bowl, to beat up the seeds a little first, before adding the oil. This will ensure a smooth and even-textured purée.

Oh, yah! Add a pinch or two of Salt, to taste. And, if the spirit moves you, just a half teaspoon of Sugar or Honey, to round out the wonderful, nutty flavour profile. Sweetening is not traditional, but you usually end up adding something sweet to recipes in which you use Tahini.

Store in a jar with a tight-fitting lid in the fridge for several weeks.

There’s another benefit to making your own Tahini. You can probably save some money buying Sesame Seeds at the bulk store and toasing them yourself. prepared Tahini can be pretty pricey, depending on whether it’s imported or domestic, and on whether you buy it at a neighbourhood Middle Eastern Grocery or a specialty store.

Enjoy Tahini’s unique contribution to classic Middle Eastern dishes and invent your own new ways to use this great condiment!

~ Maggie J.