Thank heavens for tahini — an ingredient with tremendous shelf life and a subtle flavor that will nudge you right out of whatever culinary rut you might be in.
Tahini is made from toasted sesame seeds blended with oil. Homemade tahini will have a course texture, and store-bought (made from hulled sesame seeds) will be silky and smooth.
A staple used in North African, Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisine, tahini became a regular in mainstream American dry-goods aisles in the last decade or two. You’ll probably find it near the jars of gefilte fish and Manischewitz egg noodles, but it could also be nesting close to the peanut butter or the bread.
According to Wikipedia, “Tahini is a loanword from Arabic … (and) as a verb means ‘to grind.’ It is the same root as ‘flour’ in some dialects.” The word began popping up in English around the 1930s, and now tahini, and its offspring hummus, are everywhere you look.
One of my favorite things to do with tahini is blend it in a salad dressing, which also can be used as a sauce for salmon. And lest you think tahini is only for savory recipes, recently I found a fun little gluten-free tahini cookie that I toyed with only slightly. The original is from Food & Wine magazine.
Serve these with a nice filet of grilled fish topped with the tahini dressing and enjoy an all-sesame, all-the-time meal.
Cauliflower Salad with Tahini Dressing
1 orange cauliflower, broken into small florets
1 white cauliflower, broken into small florets
3/4 cup tahini
1/2 cup olive oil
1⁄3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1⁄3 cup orange juice
2 Tbs. sherry vinegar
1 clove garlic
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. all-spice
1 cup carrots, peeled, sliced thin on the diagonal
1 small head radicchio, quartered, stem removed and discarded; leaves thinly sliced
1 bunch green onions, chopped (white and some greens)
1⁄3 cup parsley, chopped
Steam cauliflower florets (in batches if necessary) for 8-10 minutes until just tender. Spread on a sheet pan to cool.
In a food processor, blend tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, orange juice, sherry vinegar, garlic, salt, sugar, pepper and all-spice.
Place cooled cauliflower, carrots, radicchio and green onions in a large bowl. Toss with tahini dressing to taste. Add parsley, toss again. Best if dressed vegetables marinate at least 2 hours or overnight before serving. Serve cool or at room temperature.
Gluten-Free Almond Tahini Cookies
(Adapted from Anja Schwerin, Food & Wine magazine)
Makes 16-20 cookies
1 1/2 cups almond meal*
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1⁄3 cup agave
1⁄3 cup tahini
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1⁄4 cup chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, whisk the almond meal with baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, mix the agave, tahini and almond extract. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until combined.
Place 1 tsp. of dough 1-2 inches apart on cookie sheet and place 3 chocolate chips in the center of each.
Bake for 8-9 minutes until golden. Transfer the cookies to a rack and cool before serving.
*Bob’s Red Mill makes a nice almond meal, or find at Trader Joe’s.
Josie A.G. Shapiro, who won the 2013 Man-O-Manischewitz Cookoff, is the co-author of “The Lazy Gourmet” and works at the JCC of San Francisco. Her columns alternate with those of Faith Kramer. Her website is www.thechickencontests.com.