Tahini: it sounds like the name of a high-end fashion designer... or perhaps a variation on a two-piece swimsuit. But this "weird ingredient" is actually a delicious and nutritious paste made from toasted sesame seeds and oil.
Tahini originated in the Middle East and Northern Africa and was originally called ardeh, or "holy food," in ancient Persian. According to The Kosher Channel, sesame seeds were so highly valued in ancient times that Assyrians would use them along with silver to negotiate trades, and even the great ancient Greek physician Hippocrates lauded their nutritional value. High in Omega-3 fatty acids and full of immune system-boosting nutrients, tahini definitely qualifies as a "superfood."
Nowadays, tahini is often relegated to a minor ingredient in Middle Eastern dips like hummus and baba ganoush. And while those are delicious, there are so many more ways tahini can be used in cooking and baking.
Since tahini already contains oil, it can be emulsified with an acid (vinegar, lemon juice, etc.) to create a mouth-watering and unique salad dressing. Erik Pukinskis of Snowed In shares his version—apparently, it's so addictive that he has taken to calling it "crack salad."
The fall harvest brings a plethora of root vegetables in a blazing array of colors. The earthy flavor of tahini is a perfect complement to these slightly sweet jewels of the earth; and since we eat with our eyes first, you will appreciate the beauty (and subsequently the flavor) of this recipe for roasted carrots from Ashley McLaughlin at Edible Perspective.
Peanut noodles are one of my go-to items when I order Asian food for a cozy night in—but they are actually super easy to make yourself. If you use a mix of tahini and peanut butter, as suggested by Mark Bittman, you can have both a delicious and nutritious dish.
Kofta, or Middle Eastern meatballs, are a popular street food throughout that region of the world. Wrapped in a warm pita and topped with a savory tahini dressing, this quick and easy sandwich from Elspeth at Food Final Frontier is the perfect mix of flavors and textures.
The inclusion of a savory paste like tahini in a sweet treat like cookies may seem counterintuitive, but if you like peanut butter cookies or halvah, you will love these crumbly delights created by Megan Gordon of A Sweet Spoonful.
So step outside your comfort zone, grab a jar of tahini (or make your own), and dress up that salad, spice up those veggies, or make those cookies—and reap the flavor and health benefits of this uncommon but oh-so-versatile ingredient.