Friday, June 28, 2013

How to Make Tahini, or Sesame Paste

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. 

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  1. Jessica, thank you a lot for sharing this!
    I wanted to find some healthy dressing as a substitute for 'lent' mayo, which is quite popular during Lent among Russians. Your instructions are really helpful!
    And I like your traditional way very much! I think I'll try to investigate our traditional food, then.

    1. Thank you, Olga! I do love the old ways, and I hope that you enjoy exploring your own. What do you usually give up for Lent?

  2. In my family adults usually give up meat and dairy, and fish for some days. Children just eat less meat and no sweets like chocolate and ice-cream. As a university student I've had some dairy. And what do you?
    In such matters as food we try to follow Typikon, a set of rules for believers, used by the Eastern Orthodox church.

  3. By the way, we enjoy your lentil and rice pilaf too! It's delicious! Thank you!

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  5. Hello there from Sri Lanka! :)
    Through out the 18 years of my life thus far I've always had an inexplicable craving for Arabian cuisine. The like is unfortunately quite pricey down here. Your recipes are the treasure trove I've been looking for to ease the pressure on my wallet and yet simultaneously delight my taste buds! :D
    Just made the tahini...hoping to make the hummus with it tomorrow (I forgot to soak the chickpeas last night :D).
    Thank you for putting these up on the's great to get a recipe for a foreign foodstuff from a local :)

    1. Welcome, Ash! I am so thrilled that my recipes are making it all the way over to Sri Lanka! It makes the world feel like it's just a little bit smaller. I find myself wondering how you were first introduced to Middle Eastern foods. What are your favorites?

      Thank you for joining us on here, and I wish you many joyful Arabic meals! Sahtain!


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    3. Hello again! :)
      Sorry for the (heavily!) belated reply :/
      I made Hummus as well as per your recipe for it and it turned out brilliantly! It's become a staple in my diet ever since and I've made it a point to manage to replenish my stocks of it as soon as they become exhausted (which, given my predilection for the dish, is rather rapidly :D ). Thank you for the wonderful recipe :)
      I was first introduced to Arabic food at one of the restaurants in one of Colombo's five star hotels; Sheharazade, as it's named. As much as I'm a huge fan of European and American cuisine and have a deep appreciation for Japanese and Chinese dishes, I realized afterwards that what my taste buds most reverently appreciated was Arabic food; almost ALL of it that I've had so far! :D
      Amongst my favourites, in additon to hummus, are shawarma and falafyil; I must however admit that I'm only beginning to broaden the horizons of my exposure to Arab cuisine :)

      Thank you for making public your wonderfully well-written recipes!
      And good health to you too :)

  6. So glad I found your site! How long does this keep in the refrigerator? Could you add some whey to prolong the life and add healthful probiotics? Do you think I could substitute coconut oil for the olive oil?
    Sorry for all the questions, I'm just so excited! A search for fermented hummus got me here, and I'll be forever grateful.

    1. I think you could add whey to create fermented tahini, though I have never tried it. I wouldn't sub in the coconut oil for the olive oil, just because the taste would not suit me. And you can ferment your hummus by just adding whey to your finished hummus and letting it sit on your counter for a few hours. Good luck! Sounds like are having fun in your kitchen!


Trying this recipe? A question or a comment? I'd love to hear from you!