Tahini: The Power Ingredient

Roasted Acorn Squash (Courtesy)

When we think of tahini, most of our minds jump to the key flavoring in hummus or the delicious dressing that tops many Middle Eastern salads and dishes.

Accurate, to be sure, but narrow in scope, considering the versatility that tahini offers. I riffed on tahini recently in two very different ways, and both turned out quite well.

The first was one of my “necessity is the mother of invention” events. I had cleared out all the late herbs and greens from my garden and started to make a pesto — only to discover that I had no pine nuts, or indeed any other nuts in my pantry.

As I peered desperately through the cabinets, my gaze lit upon a jar of tahini, and I eyed it quizzically … I figured it would behave more or less like nuts in a recipe, and it did! The flavor complemented the herbs, garlic and cheese, and now I have a stash of a unique pasta sauce or bread spread in my freezer for a rainy day.

The second recipe goes in an entirely different direction. A neighbor recently traveled to Israel and brought me back the best halvah I have ever tasted. It was dense, just sweet enough, laden with nuts and deeply, madly, robustly sesame forward. It inspired me to consider how to integrate tahini and/or sesame more into desserts.

Some time ago, I experimented with a gluten-free, dairy-free peanut butter cookie recipe which was shockingly good. This seemed like a good starting point. I replicated the recipe using tahini instead of the peanut butter and added chocolate chips. Success!

‘Goodbye Garden’ Pesto With Tahini

Makes about 1¼ cups pesto

My summer garden, a first foray into farming beyond a pot of basil in a sunny corner, was modestly successful. The warm fall weather enabled it to thrive quite late into the season, and I only recently harvested the last of the lingering herbs and greens. These included nasturtium, watercress, basil, kale and parsley.

Serve this over pasta, schmear it on bread, spread it on roasted vegetables, mash it into potatoes or slather it on fish. We drizzled it on roasted acorn squash (recipe below), and it was sublime.

  • 4 cups assorted herbs/greens, such as parsley, basil, arugula, kale, watercress, rinsed and drained
  • ⅔ cup olive oil
  • 6 cloves fresh garlic
  • ⅓ cup tahini
  • ⅔ cup Parmesan cheese
  • Red pepper to taste (I used about ½ teaspoon)
  • Cold water if needed

Place all the ingredients except the water into a food processor or blender. Purée until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add cold water a tablespoon at a time to loosen it.

Store the pesto in the refrigerator for several days or freezer for several months.

Roasted Acorn Squash

Serves 2

  • 1 large acorn squash, seeded and cut in wedges
  • Olive oil to coat (scant ¼ cup)
  • Salt and pepper

Heat your oven to 375 degrees.

Line a rimmed baking tray with parchment. Place the acorn squash wedges on the tray, cut side up, and brush them generously with oil. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Roast the squash for about an hour until it is soft and beginning to brown at the edges.

Remove it from the oven, spread it with pesto if desired, and serve.

Tahini Chocolate-Chip Cookies

Makes about 9 cookies

These cookies are gluten-free and, depending on your chocolate, dairy-free. These features make the cookies versatile, inclusive and, above all, delicious.

A note on the brown sugar quantity: Tahini can vary in flavor and texture; some are sharper and more bitter, while others are milder. Similarly, some brands are thinner in consistency, and some are thicker. The brown sugar quantity can be adjusted to sweeten and/or thicken the batter as needed.

This can be adapted to personal preference; skip the chocolate and add cinnamon, cardamom or nutmeg to the dough. Stir in chopped nuts, raisins or candied ginger.

  • 1 cup tahini
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar (approximately)
  • 1 egg
  • ⅓ cup chocolate chips

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Mix the tahini, sugar and egg well, taste for sweetness and adjust the sugar, if needed. Add chocolate chips. Drop large spoonfuls of the batter onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. You may have to use your hands to condense the dough a bit to form cookies.

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the cookies are lightly brown on the edges and the center is solid. Cool the cookies completely and store them in an airtight container.

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