With the popularity of the Yotam Ottolenghi cookbooks and a huge interest in Middle Eastern cuisine, tahini has become the new darling of home cooks. Originally from in the Middle East, it is now made around the world including in Canada.
Tahini is a creamy sesame seed paste that can be used on its own as a dip, but shines when added to other ingredients. It plays a starring role in hummus, for example. It is rich in healthy fats and contains both omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, calcium and numerous B vitamins.
I have tried many commercial tahini brands and some are better than others. Although some oil pooling on top is natural, tahini that has a large amount of separation should be avoided as it is not fresh. Look for tahini made by companies that specialize in Middle Eastern products.
The best tahini is made with the white Ethiopian sesame seeds called humera and there are several places that sell it. In Toronto, Pusateri’s carries Halvana, an excellent brand, and Parallel restaurant makes and sells its own version. The U.S. brand Soom, highly prized by foodies, is available at Souk Tabule at 494 Front St. E., in Toronto, as well as on Amazon. Whole Foods locations across Canada also stock excellent tahini although not necessarily these brands.
Aside from in hummus, tahini can be used in salad dressings, dips, soups, cookies, or eaten as a spread on toast. It pairs well with lemon, miso, cumin, parsley, cilantro and garlic, and is a perfect substitute for peanut butter in recipes. Satisfy your sugar and chocolate urge with the inclusion of super healthy tahini in brownies. It takes away any guilt.
Making your own tahini is ideal because you can toast the sesame seeds, if desired, to give more flavour. After toasting, grind them in a food processor or high-speed blender.
Here’s a simple recipe:
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spread 3 cups fresh sesame seeds on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake seeds for 6 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Watch that they do not brown but remain a creamy colour. I find that roasting gives the tahini a fuller flavour, but you can omit this step, and if you have the humera seeds do not roast. Although you can make it in a food processor, a Vitamix or heavy-duty blender does the best job for a creamy consistency. Add a few tablespoons of grapeseed or light-tasting oil to bind it together. Homemade tahini will keep refrigerated for a couple of months.
To make a spread, add a little water to thin down your tahini. I like to add a couple of tablespoons of whipping cream to make it richer it, but it is not necessary. Throw in some spices, such as ground cumin or coriander, and a little chili, parsley, garlic and lemon juice, then use it as a dip with pita or vegetables.
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