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Doing more with: tahini

Why keep ingredients around for one purpose only? This occasional feature will seek to make the most of the pantry items we aren’t using to their full potential. Please offer your suggestions for additional uses in the comments, and let me know if there’s an ingredient you’d like to see explored.

I make a lot of hummus at home. When I first started, I went out of my way to make it without tahini, a sesame paste you can buy in the grocery store. I didn’t see a need to keep tahini in my pantry for anything else, and I preferred the hummus without the strong flavor this ingredient adds. (If you’d prefer to make hummus without tahini, here is a recipe to start with, but I would strongly recommend at least adding sesame oil to give it some complexity. You can also use sesame oil in a lot of stir fries, and it’s great in salad dressings.)

I’ve changed my ways over the years, but I don’t like keeping ingredients around for a single purpose only (especially things like tahini that must be stored in the fridge). So tahini has slowly made its way into my regular cooking repertoire. Here’s the rundown.

What: Tahini is a sesame paste that’s often used in Middle Eastern cooking. It’s a little like peanut butter, but you won’t find it with all the added sugar you find in most commercial peanut butters. Look for it in either the international aisle or the health foods aisle at the supermarket. When it sits, the oil and the solids tend to separate, so you should always stir tahini before using it. Once opened, it must be kept in the refrigerator.

Why: Sesame seeds have been shown to be a good source of key minerals, including copper, magnesium and calcium. They also contain substances that may help lower cholesterol and prevent high blood pressure.

How: Once you get a taste for tahini’s unique flavor, you will find yourself craving it in all sorts of dishes. Here are some suggestions for starters to get you beyond hummus:

  • I sometimes make a side dish that is a deconstructed hummus-and-veggies: Saute a can of chickpeas, seasoned with cumin, salt, pepper and whatever else you’d like. Once they begin to get tender, add in some chopped red bell pepper. When the peppers are soft, add in some spinach leaves and cook until just wilted. Spoon the mixture into a bowl and dress with a dollop of tahini and olive oil. I add soy sauce if I think it needs more salt, and lemon juice if I have it around.
  • I’ve always loved the lemon tahini salad dressing at Sammy T’s. You can make it yourself if you keep tahini around. Some recipes to play around with are here and here.
  • The Joy of Cooking includes a recipe for “Sesame Chicken,” which is basically shredded boiled chicken mixed with a sauce of tahini, sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar and chili oil. Garnish with fresh vegetables like cucumbers. It’s sort of like a Middle Eastern chicken salad.
  • There’s no reason you can’t eat tahini on its own. The New York Times “Recipes for Health” series offers some thoughts on that, along with a host of other recipes, here.
  • If you make it through all these and you’re craving dessert, save room for the tahini cookies.


  • domenicacooks

    Emily, what a great idea. So helpful. We all have ingredients in our pantries that just sit around because we don’t know what to do with them. As for tahini, at our house we love sesame noodles, which actually sound similar to the sesame chicken you describe, but in addition to chicken also includes cooked noodles, shredded carrot, and cucumber. I also put steamed broccoli in it, which makes it a one-dish meal. Cheers, Domenica

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