A handful of pantry items can transform simple ingredients in just seconds, vastly improving your cooking without any additional work. Other than spice blends, tahini is at the top of our list for quick makeovers. We tried a slew of supermarket tahinis and were most impressed by the Soom brand, imported from Israel by a Philadelphia company. Its creamy-smooth fresh flavor lacks the bitter finish and thick spackle-like consistency of supermarket brands. We suggest you buy two jars—you can use it both in savory and sweet applications. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Tahini for Breakfast:
Tahini is terrific over your favorite hot cereal or whole-grain toast paired with brown sugar, maple syrup, or apricot jam or plum preserves.
Whisk together 2 tablespoons tahini with 3 to 4 tablespoons of either extra-virgin olive oil or thick whole milk yogurt. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar or lemon juice (everyone’s acid tolerance is different) and season to taste with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. (If necessary, thin with water.) To this base, feel free to add cumin, coriander, cayenne, za’atar and chopped fresh herbs. It’s good on any crunchy fresh salad green or tossed with chickpeas, chopped tomato and cucumber, torn herbs and crumbled, toasted pita bread for a classic dish called fatteh.
Tahini on Ice Cream
Drizzle over chocolate or ginger ice cream and top with black sesame seeds.
Tahini-Yogurt Dipping Sauce
This all-purpose dipping sauce works alongside meats, drizzled over roasted or blanched vegetables (particularly good with beets or carrots) and is perfect as a sandwich spread for cold cuts or crudité dip. Smear some on a serving platter beneath a big Romaine salad simply dressed with a light olive oil vinaigrette and enjoy the contrast of crisp leaf and cool, creamy sauce. Mix 1 cup yogurt, 3 tablespoons tahini, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, and salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste. If you like, stir in chopped fresh herbs like mint, cilantro, oregano or marjoram, and a little grated garlic (be warned: the garlic will strengthen with age, so skip if you want to keep the sauce around for a few days).
Once you try tahini and raspberry jam on whole-grain bread, you’ll forget all about peanut butter. It’s a great combo; add thin-sliced apples or pear for crunch.
Tahini might be chocolate’s greatest foil. A touch more bitter than peanut butter, it provides a more complex contrast in our Tahini-Swirl Brownies.
For a quick alternative to heavy Italian-style cream sauces, try a tahini and yogurt sauce fit for any style of noodle: Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, in a large pasta bowl, combine 2 grated garlic cloves, zest and juice of 1 lemon and let sit for 10 minutes. Whisk in 1 cup whole-milk yogurt, 1/3 cup tahini, salt and pepper to taste. After cooking and draining the paste, add 1/3 to 1/2 cup of pasta water to the yogurt mixture to thin, then add the pasta, a few chopped scallions and, if you like, toasted walnuts and cumin seeds for garnish. No cheese necessary.
Tahini does a great job of enhancing the flavor and moisture of lean fish like cod, halibut and hake. Try this: Roast well-seasoned, olive oil-slicked fish fillets in a 450-degree oven until it's just beginning to flake, 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, blend equal parts softened, salted butter with tahini, a handful of chopped herbs—parsley, oregano, cilantro, basil—and salt and pepper to taste. Once the fish is out of the oven, immediately smear the paste on each fillet, tent with foil and allow to sit for a couple minutes. Serve with any remaining tahini butter and lemon wedges. In Turkey, they slather fresh-grilled fish with tahini and sandwich it into flatbread with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and hot sauce. You could try this with the roasted fish.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Never underestimate how satisfying a humble roasted sweet potato can be. Split the roasted potato in half lengthwise, add a spoonful of tahini, spritz of lime juice and chopped scallions and cilantro. Hot sauce too. It’ll make you wonder why you ever added butter.
Smear tahini onto a Graham cracker before adding the molten marshmallow and chocolate. It’s an addictively “adult” taste.
See here for some of Milk Street's best recipes that put tahini to work.