What is the name of the protein-rich paste made from toasted, ground, hulled sesame seeds and is a star ingredient in hummus, baba ghanoush and Middle Eastern cuisine, where it is known as “white gold”? It’s a common ingredient in Mediterranean cooking and has become a more mainstream ingredient in recent years. Tahini.
My first exposure to tahini was growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., during the 1960s and ’70s, when my parents took me to a restaurant serving pizza and falafel. I remember topping the latter with tahini. What a treat.
There’s much more to tahini than as a staple ingredient in hummus. I’ve been reading many recipes in food magazines and on websites and have discovered its savory-sweet, nutty taste can be used to enhance a wide range of recipes, including ice cream, brownies and even cocktails. The creamy texture and high unsaturated fat provides dairy-like qualities that are hard to recreate in a plant-based diet.
Being a fan of tahini led me to search for a cookbook for more inspiration. “The Magic of Tahini: Vegan Recipes Enriched with Sweet & Nutty Sesame Seed Paste,” by Dunja Gulin (2019, Ryland Peter & Small, $14.95) explains the different types of tahini and how to make it from scratch, using hulled or unhulled, black or white sesame seeds, and how to choose the right store-bought tahini for your recipe. From tahini popcorn, Greek tahini soup with rice, blueberry smoothies, truffles, quiche, scones, and the recipes below, you will find many ways to incorporate “white gold” into your diet.
In the book’s “Tahini 101” chapter, I learned that sesame seeds, the key ingredient in tahini, have been grown in tropical regions since prehistoric times.
The author writes, “sesame seed plants are considered to be the oldest oilseed crop known to mankind and are referenced in ancient Hindu legends, representing immortality.” The crop is a “newcomer” to the United States, arriving in the late 17th century.
Perhaps some of the increased interest in tahini is because it is made from seeds rather than nuts, making it an alternative ingredient for those with nut allergies to nuts. It can be found in most supermarkets.
For artisan tahini, check out Seed + Mill, one of my favorite shops at the Chelsea Market, the food mecca and home to the Food Network in New York CIty.
They grind fresh tahini on site and tout they are the only store in the USA solely dedicated to sesame seed products.
Their halva, which looks like beautiful cakes, is made by mixing tahini with sugar at a high temperature and adding combinations of flavors, my favorites being cardamom, sea salt, dark chocolate and chocolate orange.
Put carrots, rutabaga and sweet potato into a large pan. Cover with boiling water, add a pinch of salt, bring to a boil, lower heat and cook, covered, for 10-15 minutes until soft. Add the kale and cook until soft but still bright green. Drain, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Add tahini and garlic to the vegetables and mash coarsely with a potato masher, adding some reserved cooking liquid as necessary. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir well. Spoon into a serving dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds, then serve. Serves 2.
Wash and drain the lentils. Fill a heavy-bottomed pan with 2 cups of water, add lentils and bay leaf and bring to a boil, uncovered.
Lower the heat, half-cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all of the water is absorbed and lentils fall apart. Add a little more hot water during cooking if necessary. Discard bay leaf.
Stir in tahini and remove from heat. Add lemon juice and chopped herbs. Season with salt and pepper and serve. Serves 2.
Put 2 cups of water into a heavy-bottomed pan and bring to a boil. Add the millet, cauliflower and salt and bring back to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, half-covered for 10 minutes. Stir, cover and simmer for 5 more minutes. Add tahini and blend into a puree, adding a little more hot water if needed. Serve immediately. Serves 2.
The headnote says, “Try this vegan alternative to a regular ranch dressing. It can be used not only for dressing salads but also as a dip for crudités or as a spread in sandwiches.”
Using a blender, blend the tahini, cashews, mayonnaise, vinegar, garlic, mustard and salt, slowly adding water to reach the desired consistency. Transfer to a bowl and fold in the chopped herbs and pepper to taste. Taste and adjust the vinegar and/or salt to taste. Cover and keep refrigerated for up to 4 days. Makes 11/3 cups.
Using a blender, blend all the ingredients together with 1/2 cup cold water into a smooth dressing. Store in a sealed jar in the fridge for up to a week.
The headnote says, “Blended beans and tahini give a wonderful texture to these brownies and it’s a great way to introduce plant protein and calcium to kids! Cashews can be replaced by other nuts, but I suggest you try this wonderful combination, you won’t regret it!”
*If you want to cook the chickpeas or navy beans from scratch, soak 3/4 cup dried beans in a lot of water overnight. Drain, cover with three times the volume of water and cook for 1 hour over low heat in a heavy bottomed pot, adding cold water when necessary or use a pressure cooker. Drain well.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the base of the bowl does not touch the water. Put the melted chocolate, cooked beans, coconut oil, syrup, lemon juice and zest and tahini in a food processor and blend until smooth. Mix the ﬂours, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a mixing bowl. Add the bean mixture and fold in with a spatula until you get a smooth, thick consistency.
Spoon the cake mixture into the prepared baking pan and spread level with a spatula. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or longer — depending on your oven. Do not overbake — they are supposed to be a little gooey. Allow to cool completely in the baking pan. Cut into squares to serve. The author likes to serve them with a little homemade apricot jam which contrasts beautifully with the rich, heavy chocolate taste of these brownies. Makes about 20.
“Wonder of the Cocktail:” June 19-21, Foxwoods Resort Casino, 350 Trolley Line Blvd., Ledyard, 1-800-Foxwoods. Features wine and spirits tastings, master class seminars, a chefs’ dine-around tasting, pop-up bars throughout the resort, a cocktail party by the Fox Tower pool and a grand tasting on June 21. Visit foxwoods.com/cocktail for pricing information and full schedule.
Consiglio’s Murder Mystery Dinner: “On the Cusp” June 21, 7 p.m. (doors open at 6 p.m.), Consiglio’s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, reservations at 203-865-4489 https://bit.ly/2O3TQzQ, $65 includes dinner and show (beverages, tax and gratuity not included). An interactive comedy show that goes on throughout the evening during a three-course meal. Cast mingles table to table, dropping clues for a mystery only you can solve. Wear your silliest beach hat to compete for prizes.
Kids Culinary Camp — Cooking 101: (ages 5-11), June 24-28 10 a.m.-noon. Chef’s Emporium, 449 Boston Post Road, Orange, $55. Reservations 203-799-2665, $250. During this five-day camp experience, your young chef will participate in hands-on classes under the guidance of our expert chef instructors. We will create and eat recipes each day that focus on knife safety and techniques; they will practice essential kitchen skills, learn about kitchen equipment and master the fundamentals of cooking. For the week’s agenda and tickets, visit https://bit.ly/2My4HT9. Teens Culinary Camp — Cooking 101 (12 years+) June 24-28 1-3 p.m. For the week’s agenda and tickets, visit https://bit.ly/2F89x3i.
Consiglio’s Demonstration Cooking Class: June 26, 6:30 p.m., Consiglio’s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, 203-865-4489 (reservations required), $75 (beverages, tax and gratuity not included), https://bit.ly/2Nd0xAg. Menu: fresh figs with gorgonzola and prosciutto, angel hair with garlic, lemon and pine nuts, veal tenderloin with fingerling potatoes and broccolini, strawberry shortcake.
Worth Tasting: July 20, 10:45 a.m. Guided 3½-hour culinary walking tour of downtown New Haven, reservations required, 203-415-3519, 203-777-8550, $65. Tickets at https://bit.ly/2FjiwMP. Enjoy tasty samplings from several of New Haven’s favorites. You won’t be hungry after this tour. I will lead this one.