Tahini

All About Tahini: What it is and 6 yummy ways to use it

Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds. Sesame seeds are jam-packed full of good stuff. However, unless you’re super-diligent with your chewing, most of them are going to pass straight through you. Which means all their goodness passes straight through as well.

This is one of the reasons why tahini is so good. In grinding up the sesame seeds and making them into a paste, it’s easier for you to absorb the nutrients.

The nutrients in sesame seeds

  • Protein: sesame seeds have about 20 percent protein. As with all vegetarian sources, their amino acid profile is not ideal. However, they can be very useful in a vegetarian diet.
  • Fibre: sesame seeds are 10 percent fibre
  • Fat: at 55 percent, they’re high in fat. However, the vast majority of this is mono- and poly- unsaturated. They contain a small amount of Omega 3s, but mostly have Omega 6 essential fatty acids.
  • Carbohydrate: in amongst all that protein, fibre and fat there’s not a lot of room for carbs, only 0.9 percent.
  • Minerals: potassium, magnesium, manganese, small amounts of calcium and they’re one of the few vegetarian sources of zinc.
  • Vitamins: vitamin E, as well as small amounts of some B vitamins
  • Antioxidants: sesame seeds contain a group of antioxidants called lignans. These have been shown to reduce cholesterol and improve heart health.

Should you include tahini in your diet?

Yes, yes, yes and YES. Tahini is a gorgeous, useful food for both vegetarians and carnivores alike.

Tahini is particularly useful because of the fats it contains, the minerals and also the antioxidants.

 

How to use tahini . . .Recipes

I’m going to post some ideas about how to use tahini..

Tahini salad dressing

Tahini Salad DressingThis is the number one use of tahini in my house

I’ve been making this for years. I first made it for coleslaw, as a healthier alternative to mayonnaise. But now I eat it on all sorts of salads.

Notes on the recipe

  • Vary the recipe: The nature of tahini means this is a very flexible recipe. Different tahini brands vary in both taste and consistency, so you might need to tweak the quantities below.
  • Consistency: The dressing should be thick, but still pourable. You may need to add a bit of water to the mix, if you have a thick tahini.
  • How long does it keep? I usually make this up as I go, so I’m not sure how long it lasts. However, I’ve put some in the fridge and I’ll report back in a few days.
  • What’s shoyu? Shoyu is a Japanese soy sauce. You can buy it from health food shops and some supermarkets. It has a smoother, more complex flavour than straight soy. It costs more – but for use in dressings, it’s worth the extra money.

This dressing is super-easy to make. Just whisk together the following ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon of tahini
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons of shoyu
  • 2 teaspoons mustard (I use a Dijon)

This makes enough for about two people.

Fruit, nut and tahini breakfast bars

Tahini Breakfast BarThey’re full of nuts, dried fruit and wholegrains – no additional oil or sugar.

Which makes them a low GI, sustaining and easy breakfast.

I’ve tweaked the recipe slightly, to fit what I had in the pantry.

Plus, I thought they’d work well with tahini, so I used this to replace the flaxseeds.

The ingredients I used were:

Date Mixture:

  • 1/2 cup diced dried dates
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup tahini

Dry Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup wholemeal spelt flour
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1/3 cup mixed nuts, chopped – I used almonds, pecans & brazils
  • 1/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds / pepitas
  • 1 cup mixed dried fruit – I used sultanas, apricots and apple

I made these up, according to the following instructions – missing out the flaxseed stage and adding the tahini to the cooled date puree.

  • Lightly coat a 9″x9″ baking pan with cooking spray or oil and set aside.
  • Prepare Date Mixture: Add 1/2 cup water and diced dates to a small saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until dates are soft. (Mixture will be thick.) Allow to cool.
  • Prepare Flax Mixture: Combine 1/2 cup water and 5 teaspoons ground flax. Set aside for five minutes to thicken then stir.
  • Mix all dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Add flax mixture to date puree, stir well, and pour into dry ingredients. Mix to combine and press into baking pan.
  • Bake at 350 F for approximately 15 minutes. Allow to cool completely before cutting into bars.
  • Yields 15 bars.

And they’re really good. Full of flavour, slighly chewy, plus they keep me going for most of the morning.

Here’s the nutritional breakdown per bar:

  • Energy: 650kJ
  • Protein: 4g
  • Fat: 9g
  • Saturated Fat: 1g
  • Carbohydrates: 14g
  • Fibre: 3g
  • Sodium: 14mg

Breakfast – marmalade & tahini on toast

Tahini Toast

  • 2 pieces Afghan bread
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • 1 tablespoon marmalade
  • 1 ginger beer

 

Chickpea, lima bean and tahini casserole.

It’s a lovely mixture of beans, vegetables, herbs and a hint of creaminess from the tahini.Chick Pea Tahini Casserole

It’s based on a recipe from one of my oldest cookery books The Penniless Vegetarian by David Scott (details below). This is a funny little book, full of slightly old-fashioned, British vegetarian cooking.

Definitely not in vogue, but this is the food I grew up with.

It’s simple to make, but does need 45 minutes in the oven. So easy, but not quick.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 6 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped (I do half moons)
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 tablspoon shoyu
  • 1 × 450g tin chick peas
  • 1 × 450g tin lima beans
  • 1 × 450g tin tomatoes
  • 2 handfuls of continental parsley, roughly chopped

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  • Saute the vegetables: Put the garlic and olive oil into an ovenproof casserole dish. Place on a medium – high flame. As the oil heats up, the garlic will start cooking and gently release it’s flavours into the oil. Once the garlic starts to sizzle, turn the flame down and add the onions and carrot. Saute gently for about 5 minutes.
  • Cook the casserole: Take off the heat. Add the rest of the ingredients to the casserole dish. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook in the oven for about 45 minutes.

Roast pumpkin with white beans and barley

After my weekend cook-fest, I have a fridge and freezer full of ingredients.

Last night, instead of using the roasted pumpkin in a risotto, I decided to combine it with some of the beans and barley.

All the ingredients were cooked, so they just needed to be warmed in a saucepan with a small amount of water.

I then made a quick dressing and dinner was ready in minutes.

These quantities make three servings – enough for dinner for two and my lunch today.

  • 2 cups cooked barley
  • 2 cups cooked white beans (you could use a 400g tin of beans)
  • Roast pumpkin (I cooked 750g pumpkin with a mixture of coriander seeds, fennel seeds, dried chilli and oregano)
  • 1/2 bunch coriander, washed and finely chopped

Dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon harissa
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 2 tablespoons yoghurt

Instructions:

  • Heat the barley, beans and pumpkin in a saucepan with 1/2 cup of water. You want the ingredients to warm gently, but not stick to the bottom of the pan.
  • Make the dressing: While this is heating, put all the dressing ingredients in a bowl and whisk together.
  • To finish: Once the barley mixture is heated, add the fresh coriander and dressing and gently stir through to combine. Serve immediately.

Variations

There are many other ways you could serve this meal, depending on what was in your fridge.

  • If you didn’t want to make the dressing, serve with ricotta stirred through or fetta crumbled on top.
  • If you do want the dressing, but don’t have any harissa, add a teaspoon of mustard.
  • Stir through a handful of baby spinach.
  • Use mint instead of coriander.
  • For the meatlovers, make slightly less and use this as a side dish to some pan-cooked lamb chops. You could rub some harissa over the lamb before cooking.
  • Use chick peas instead of white beans.

Soy sauce alternative

One of the best soy sauce alternatives is fish sauce. It adds a complex, salty flavour to the dish – much as soy sauce does.

If you’re vegetarian, most Asian grocers also stock a vegetarian “fish” sauce.

I use vegie fish sauce a lot. One of my favourite stir-fry flavourings is:

  • 1 tablespoon “fish” sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon tahini

It makes a rich, thick sauce. I add this in the last minute of cooking, stir it through the vegies and then serve immediately. We have this at least once a week in my house.

Tahini FAQ

So you’ve decided to include more tahini in your diet: what should you look for when buying it and how do you store it?

Can tahini be made at home, or do you have to buy it commercially?

I’ve never really thought about making my own. However, it is certainly possible, given the right blender, to make a tahini paste at home.

In commercially produced tahini the seeds are often crushed, soaked and then brined, prior to milling. This removes the outer husk of the seed and produces the lighter coloured, hulled tahini that is most commonly available.

At home the biggest impediment to making tahini is the type of blender you have. Sesame seeds are too small for most blenders to grind up. Although it should work in a spice or coffee grinder instead.

To make your own tahini I’d recommend lightly toasting the sesame seeds first, either in the oven or on the stovetop. Then place them in a coffee grinder with a small amount of sesame oil and blend together. There are some good instructions here.

Where to buy it

Tahini is available from supermarkets, online shops, health food shops, as well as Middle Eastern and Chinese grocers.

Hulled vs unhulled tahinis

Sesame seeds have a fibrous outer coating – the hull – and tahini can be made either with or without this outer layer.

Unhulled tahini is darker and has a more intense flavour. While hulled tahini is much lighter in colour and taste.

The hull does contain some nutrients. It has fibre, along with minerals, particularly calcium, magnesium and zinc. Therefore if you buy hulled tahini you’re losing some of these nutrients.

There is a question mark over the usefulness of the calcium in unhulled tahini. It’s stored in a form called calcium oxalate, which our bodies may find difficult to absorb.

What tahini to choose?

I have found the flavours of different tahinis to vary considerably. Some brands I really like, while I find others too bitter. If you’re new to tahini, try a few brands to find the one you like most.

My all-time favourite tahini is the one I buy from Alfalfa House – the food co-op in Enmore. It’s organic, unhulled, quite strongly flavoured and I love it. I also like the Mayvers brand.

When buying tahini, it’s common for there to be a layer of oil at the top of the jar. This is just the sesame oil, which has separated from the more fibrous solids. There’s nothing wrong with this, simply stir it back together before using.

Where to store tahini?

Tahini should always be stored in the fridge. It’s high in poly-unsaturated fats. These fats are sensitive to heat and light and can easily turn rancid. So keep it refrigerated and your tahini will last longer.

What to do if your tahini separates?

Tahini is one of my favourite ingredients. I buy big jars of the stuff and use it all the time.

No matter how old or new the tahini, it’s always separated out to some extent, as the oil floats to the top of the jar and the more fibrous solids descend to the bottom.

Up until recently I’ve attempted to remix the two layers by hand, by mixing it with a spoon. However, as Madhur Jaffrey says “you can feel as though you’re mixing cement”. It’s hard work and never very effective.

Then recently I hit on an easy and kind of obvious solution . . .

. . . storing the jar upside down.

Rather than using your own elbow grease you’re letting gravity do the work for you. The two layers won’t mix together immediately. However, gradually, the oil will start to rise again, the fibrous solids start to fall and the two mix together.

I’m also using the same storage method for my peanut butter.

It helps to screw the lids of the jars on tightly and also to put some kitchen towel underneath, as there can be a small amount of leakage at first. But otherwise this method works really well, no cement mixing required.

I am using tahini for the first time, a liquid has risen to the top, do I use that?

It’s quite common for tahini to separate out and yes, you can use the liquid at the top.

The two main components of tahini are oil and also the more fibrous matter. The oil has a different density, hence it’s tendency to rise to the top, over time.

Before using your tahini give it a good stir and this will blend the oil back in. This can be hard work at first – as Madhur Jaffrey says “this can feel as though you’re mixing cement”. But after a couple of minutes it does get easier.

Markella Williams
 

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