If you want to cook Middle Eastern foods, you're going to want to have a jar of tahini in your pantry. This creamy, nutty sesame paste is the cornerstone of so many wonderful Middle Eastern dips and sauces (hummus! kefta! baba ghanoush! tahini-lemon sauce!). Plus, it has the shelf life of a jar of peanut butter, and is highly nutritious to boot (read more about its health properties here). What's not to love?
Well, the price, for one. Tahini can be expensive. Also, in some parts of the country, it can be difficult to find in your regular grocery store. This would be a serious impediment to making many Arabic dishes, so when several readers asked me if I knew how to make tahini, I started to play around in my kitchen.
After a few false starts, I was delighted to see a beautifully creamy sauce coming together in my food processor. This sauce is rich and nutty, and while a little grainier than commercially prepared tahini, I think it will be wonderful in many Palestinian dishes. I was surprised by how easy and utterly affordable this tahini is. The whole process takes about fifteen minutes, and costs a fraction of what store-bought tahini costs. I think I might have to switch to homemade tahini for some of my recipes. I haven't tested this tahini in my recipes yet, but I think it will work especially well for dips, such as hummus and zucchini dip (recipe forthcoming!).
Tahini, or Sesame Paste
1/2 cup sesame seeds, hulled
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp olive oil
1/4-1/2 cup water, divided
Yield: a little more than 1/2 cup tahini
1. Over low heat, toast your sesame seeds gently in a skillet for approximately 10 minutes, until the seeds start to glisten and release a nutty aroma. Stir them often. Don't be tempted to turn up the heat and brown them, because that will result in a bitter tahini. The sesame seeds should be just slightly golden.
2. In a food processor, process the sesame seeds until they break down a little, then add the olive oil and salt and pulse for one minute, scraping down the sides as needed.
3. Pour in 1/4 cup of water, and pulse until a paste forms. Then let your food processor work for a minute or two, until smooth. Thin the paste with the remaining water, if necessary. Store in the refrigerator.