Last week, I spied this can of tahini on the shelf in our small town supermarket.
Friends, this is news.
Finding tahini in our town is like striking oil in the middle of Manhattan, or discovering great bagels in Mongolia. Not impossible, but not entirely likely, either.
Tahini (pronounced ta HEE nee) is sesame paste, made by crushing sesame kernels, which are then toasted and ground. There are two types, light and dark; it's the light tahini we use most often, because it's said to have superior texture and flavor.
Interestingly, the largest commercial producers of sesame seeds are India, China and Mexico. The primary producers of tahini, however, are Lebanon, Turkey and Israel.
Just like peanut butter -- thick, creamy, and a bit oily -- tahini is one of the key ingredients in hummus, baba ghanoush and halvah, and also in tahini bread, oatmeal raisin cookies, sesame zucchini soup, and Italian-style sesame noodles. In a pinch, you can substitute peanut butter for tahini.
Don't confuse tahini with Asian sesame paste. Tahini is made from sesame seeds that have been hulled and toasted; Asian sesame paste is made with unhulled seeds and has a more bitter flavor. You can use tahini (or peanut butter) in place of Asian sesame paste, but not vice versa.
An all-natural product, tahini contains no emulsifiers or stabilizers, so the oil will separate and rise to the top of the container. Give a thorough stir before you use it, to reincorporate the oil. Store opened tins or jars in the cupboard, for several months. Use tahini in moderation; it's high in fat (no trans fats, though) and calories, at 85 calories per tablespoon.
Tahini used to be considered an exotic ingredient, available only in ethnic markets, specialty stores and, more recently, online. But if I can find it in the woodlands of Rhode Island, you might find tahini hiding on the shelf in your local grocery store.
Potato salad with sesame dressing
A nice change from traditional potato salad, this is particularly delicious with roast lamb or grilled chicken. Serves 8; can be doubled.
6 medium potatoes
4 scallions, finely chopped
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
2 tsp fresh spearmint leaves, roughly chopped
For the tahini dressing:
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp kosher salt
3 Tbsp water
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Peel the potatoes and cut into 1-inch cubes. Place in a sauce pan and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil and cook until the potatoes are just cooked through, 10-12 minutes.
While the potatoes are cooking, whisk together the ingredients for the tahini dressing.
Drain the potatoes, and toss them in a bowl with scallions, parsley, mint and the dressing. Let marinate in the refrigerator for several hours. Just before serving, toss again, and season with sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper.
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