The delicate, fragrant flavor of the sesame seed has been treasured for thousands of years throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean. And don't let its size fool you—the tiny sesame is bursting with powerful nutrition, including copper, manganese, calcium, zinc and iron, vitamin B1, and dietary fiber. It's also rich in the lignans sesamin and sesamolin, which have cholesterol-reducing effects.
Tahini is the paste or butter made from ground sesame seeds. You've likely eaten it in the delicious Mediterranean dip, hummus. But don't let your tahini-eating stop there! It's a wonderfully versatile spread you can enjoy in a number of ways. Here are a few favorites:
- Salad dressing: Tahini is a vegan go-to for creamy salad dressings. I mix it with enough water so it's the creaminess I like, add juice of one lemon and fresh herbs like parsley and mint, or cilantro and jalapenos. Try dill for a ranch-like flavor.
- Spread: Hummus is a terrific tahini-based spread, but you don't have to stop there. Replace the beans with vegetables, such as carrots, zucchini, or even a winter squash. This is a fantastic recipe: http://www.marthastewart.com/335088/spiced-carrot-spread
- Sub-in for mayo: Looking for a more natural tang to your salads and sandwiches? Ditch the mayo and replace instead with tahini. Try squeezing a lemon into a few tablespoons of tahini before using to give it that tartness.
- Sauce: One of our favorite meals to make at home is a whole grain, like quinoa or brown rice, cooked beans (pintos are my favorite), and steamed or lightly sautéed veggies (kale sauté with ginger is amazing!) . Then we pour a tahini sauce over top. Yum. Like the salad dressing instruction above, only a bit thicker. And try adding in crushed coriander seeds, a pinch of cumin, and paprika instead of—or in addition to—the fresh herbs.
- Creamy pasta dishes: Ditch the dairy and get all the creamy texture and flavor by using tahini in your pasta. It can dress up leftover noodles and veggies with little prep or mess. Try this recipe for pasta with lemon-tahini dressing and spinach. Yum. http://catesworldkitchen.com/2010/10/lemon-tahini-pasta-with-spinach/
- Baking: Tahini works like a nut butter, especially in baked goods. With all the recent peanut butter contamination, you've got good reason to take a break. Try subbing tahini for peanut butter in your favorite cookie recipes.
- Halvah: A traditional Middle Eastern dessert, halvah highlights tahini's rich flavor and texture. This recipe has only four ingredients and is simple to make. Try subbing dates for the honey if you're vegan. http://macrobiotic.about.com/od/wholefoodsdesserts/r/Sesame-Tahini-Halvah.htm
- With miso: Here's a great recipe from the Post Punk Kitchen that marries tahini with miso in a macrobiotic inspired soba dish. Yum-my! http://www.theppk.com/2012/03/roasty-soba-bowl/
- Solo: Tahini is so often dressed up and added to other dishes, we can forget how delicious it is all by itself. Slightly sweet, slightly bitter, it's a perfect substitute for nut butter on a sandwich. Try it on toast in the morning—skip the jam. For lunch, make a sandwich with tahini and sliced cucumbers. Kids love it with sliced apples or bananas as a snack or lunch.