There’s no limit to what you can make with tahini, so don’t confine yourself to hummus – explore the wonder of sesame with these delicious recipes instead.
Whether you’re using lockdown 3.0 to hone your culinary skills or are simply sticking to comfort food to pull you through, one thing is certain: some of the most intriguing ingredients can take a dish from basic to standout in just one dollop.
Tahini is of them. A creamy, oily paste made from ground sesame seeds, tahini is a staple ingredient in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and African cuisines (and is at least partially responsible for our obsession with all things Ottolenghi). Not only does sesame’s velvety, nutty flavour lend itself beautifully to both sweet and savoury dishes, the powerhouse seeds are also rich in protein, iron, calcium, magnesium and fats.
Not all tahinis have the same taste or consistency, though. “I find Israeli, Lebanese and Palestinian brands superior to Greek and Cypriot ones,” says Yotam Ottolenghi. “They seem more flavoursome, lighter and less claggy.” If you fancy sampling a few different brands for yourself, finding a local international supermarket is a wise move, although you can find plenty of choice to whet your appetite online, too.
Needless to say, the proof of tahini’s wonderful versatility is in the pudding. So, if you’ve got sesame seeds in your sights, we’ve got five flavour-packed tahini recipes to try now.
First up, the savoury. Katy Beskow’s tahini-roasted cauliflower with lemon and thyme is infused with warming Middle Eastern spices to keep the January chill at bay. Claire Thomson’s grilled courgettes with chickpeas, tahini and mint, meanwhile, make a quick-as-you-like lunch for days when you’re feeling totally uninspired – and her baked chicken gives flatbread a whole new lease of life thanks to a simple marinade of tahini, garlic, lemon, cumin and paprika.
Now for the sweet. Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley’s tahini rolls are doughy delights that will satisfy avid bakers, while Tiffiny Hall’s utterly moreish chocolate chip tahini cookies are a quick snack to make every WFH tea break infinitely better. Open sesame…
Katy Beskow’s tahini-roasted cauliflower with lemon and thyme
Katy says: “This Middle Eastern-spiced cauliflower makes the perfect centrepiece for any celebration. Creamy tahini is whisked with gentle spices including ras el hanout, which can be found in most supermarkets”.
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil
- 4 rounded tbsp good quality tahini
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp ras el hanout
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- juice of ½ unwaxed lemon
- 2 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked and roughly chopped
- 1 medium cauliflower, leaves and stem discarded
- 1 x 400g can of butterbeans, drained and rinsed
- 1 unwaxed lemon, sliced into wedges
- handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- generous pinch of sea salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.
In a bowl, whisk together the oil with 3 tablespoons of the tahini. Whisk in the smoked paprika, ras el hanout and cinnamon and stir in the lemon juice and thyme to create a smooth sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
Dip the whole cauliflower into the sauce to coat it completely, then place the cauliflower in a large lidded casserole dish. Pour over any remaining sauce, then place on the lid. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes.
Carefully remove the dish from the oven and toss the butterbeans around the base of the cauliflower. Lay in the lemon wedges, then return to the oven without the lid for a further 15 minutes to roast until the cauliflower appears golden.
Remove from the oven and stir the flat-leaf parsley into the butterbeans. Use the remaining tablespoon of tahini to drizzle over the top of the roasted cauliflower.
Ensure that the cauliflower fits in your casserole dish; the lid should not touch the top of the cauliflower.
From Easy Vegan Bible by Katy Beskow (£22, Quadrille), out now
Claire Thomson’s grilled courgettes with chickpeas, tahini and mint
Claire says: “This recipe makes an excellent side dish, or a light lunch or supper with some flat breads. You will see when making the tahini sauce that the sesame paste appears to split. Don’t worry – the water will bring it back, and it makes for a smooth, creamy sauce that is a very useful dressing for a good many salads.
“It’s also very good with grilled meats – lamb and chicken, for example. Roast the chickpeas as hard as you can. You want a good majority to shrivel and toast, turning nutty and moreish. To help with this, make sure the chickpeas are as dry as can be before roasting in the hot oven with the oil, salt and spices”.
- 6 courgettes, halved lengthways
- 1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
- 1 tsp coriander seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
- 1 x 400g can of chickpeas, drained, rinsed and patted dry
- ½ tsp salt, plus more to season
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tbsp sumac
- 50g tahini
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 small bunch of mint, leaves picked and roughly chopped
- ½ tsp chilli flakes, or more to taste
- freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas mark 7.
Heat a grill pan or grill to very hot. Season the courgettes well with salt and pepper and grill them cut sides downward for 3 minutes, until nicely charred. Turn over and cook on the other sides for a couple more minutes. Remove from the grill.
While the courgettes are grilling, mix the cumin and coriander seeds into the chickpeas with the ½ teaspoon of salt and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Roast on a baking tray for 15–20 minutes, giving the tray a good shake to rotate the chickpeas halfway through cooking until some of the chickpeas have begun to brown and crisp.
Remove from the oven and season with another good dusting of salt. Transfer to a dish and set side.
Put the grilled, partly cooked courgettes on the baking tray and cook in the oven for 5–8 minutes, until tender.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle over half the lemon juice. Arrange the courgettes on a large serving platter or individual plates and sprinkle with the sumac.
While the courgettes are in the oven, put the tahini in a bowl or blender with the remaining lemon juice and the garlic, and 100ml of water. Whisk or blend to the consistency of double cream.
Spoon the tahini sauce over the courgettes, top with the roasted chickpeas, mint and chilli flakes and drizzle over the remaining olive oil.
From Home Cookery Year by Claire Thomson (£30, Quadrille), out now
Claire Thomson’s tahini baked chicken on hummus with crispbread, spring onions and whole cloves of garlic
Claire says: “This recipe is based on fatteh, a dish from the southern Levant comprising toasted or stale flat breads layered with all number of flattering ingredients. I’ve used scrunched-up crispbreads, but you could just as well use good crackers or assertively toasted and torn pita breads.
“The tahini marinade does something ludicrously good to chicken skin when you bake it, super-crisp and golden. The hummus here (homemade or shopbought, as you wish) is a non-negotiable bed on which to sink the accompanying fatteh ingredients. This is a recipe to take your time to plate, building flavour and texture to rousing delight.”
- 12 cloves of garlic, 4 peeled and crushed, 8 peeled then left whole
- 2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
- 2 lemons
- 2 tsp paprika (sweet or hot, as you like)
- 120g tahini
- 2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for the spring onions
- 8 boneless, skin-on chicken thighs
- 2 bunches of spring onions, cut into 3cm lengths
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 200g hummus (shop-bought or homemade), to serve
- 4 good-size crispbreads or crackers, broken into bite-size pieces
- 1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and roughly chopped
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the crushed garlic, cumin, juice of ½ lemon, paprika, half the tahini and all the olive oil. Season the chicken pieces with salt and plenty of black pepper, then add them to the marinade.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (up to 4 hours).
To make the tahini sauce, mix 100ml of water and the juice of another ½ lemon into the remaining tahini and whisk until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper. Put the marinated chicken on one of the lined baking trays and bake for 25–30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.
Remove from the oven and rest it for at least 10 minutes before tearing or slicing into bite-size pieces.
Meanwhile, on the second lined baking tray, add the spring onions and whole cloves of garlic.
Add a good seasoning of salt and enough olive oil to coat. Cook for 15–20 minutes, until soft and charred.
To serve, choose a large, flat serving platter and begin building the dish, or make 4 individual servings. Smooth the hummus out all over the plate, then alternate with the chicken, crispbread, spring onion, whole roasted cloves of garlic and parsley.
Spoon over the tahini sauce and serve immediately with the remaining lemon cut into wedges.
From Home Cookery Year by Claire Thomson (£30, Quadrille), out now
Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley’s sweet tahini rolls (kubez el tahini)
Sami and Tara say: “The journey of these rolls can be traced through Lebanon to Armenia, where these kubez el tahini come from. They are simple to make, impressive to look at and loved by all. They’re a particular favourite with kids.
“Eat them as they are, or sliced and spread with dibs w tahini, the Palestinian equivalent of peanut butter and jam, where creamy tahini is mixed through with a little bit of grape or date molasses.”
Makes 10 rolls
For the dough:
- 1½ tsp fast-action dried yeast
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- 110ml whole milk, lukewarm
- 300g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 75g unsalted butter, melted
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- olive oil, for greasing
For the filling:
- 100g caster sugar
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 120g tahini
For the topping
- 1 egg yolk, beaten
- 1 tbsp white sesame seeds
First make the dough. Put the yeast, sugar and milk into a small bowl and mix to combine. Set aside for 5 minutes, until it starts to get frothy.
Meanwhile, put the flour and ½ teaspoon of salt into the bowl of a freestanding mixer, with the dough hook in place. Mix on a low speed, then slowly pour in the yeast mixture. Add the melted butter and continue to mix for about a minute.
Add the egg, then increase the speed to medium and leave for 5 minutes, for the dough to get well kneaded. Using your hands, scrape the dough into a ball: it will be slightly sticky and elastic.
Place it in a lightly oiled bowl, turning it a couple of times so that the dough gets well greased. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave to rest in a warm place for about 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size.
Put the sugar and cinnamon for the filling into a small bowl. Mix well to combine, then set aside.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a large rectangle, about 35 x 50cm. Drizzle the tahini over the dough, then, using the back of a spoon or a spatula, spread it out evenly, leaving 1cm clear of tahini at both the shorter ends.
Sprinkle the sugar mixture evenly over the tahini and leave for 10 minutes, until the sugar looks all wet.
Starting from one of the long sides, roll the dough inwards to form a long, thin sausage. Trim away about 2cm from each end, then slice the dough into 10 equal pieces: they should each be just over 4½cm long.
Sit each piece upright, so that its cut side is facing upwards, then, using your hands, gently flatten out to form an 8cm-wide circle. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rest for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 160°C fan.
Transfer each roll of dough to a large parchment-lined baking tray, spaced 2–3cm apart. Brush all over – just the top and sides, not the base – with the egg yolk, sprinkle with sesame seeds, and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 18 minutes, or until cooked through and golden.
Remove from the oven and set aside for about 20 minutes – you don’t want them to be piping hot – then serve.
These are best eaten fresh on the day of baking but are also fine for 2–3 days once baked, warmed through in the oven. They also freeze well, after they’ve been baked and left to cool: you can pop them into the oven straight from the freezer until warmed through.
From Falastin: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley (£28, Ebury), out now
Tiffiny Hall’s chocolate chip tahini cookies
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
- 205g tahini
- 90g rice malt syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 50g rolled (porridge) oats (or quinoa flakes if gluten-free)
- 1 egg, whisked
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ¹⁄8 tsp salt
- 45g dark chocolate chips (or chopped good-quality dark chocolate)
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Place all of the ingredients except the chocolate in a large mixing bowl and combine well with a fork. Add the chocolate chips and stir through the mixture — it should be nice and sticky, so the cookies will turn out light and airy.
Spoon tablespoon-sized balls of the mixture onto the baking tray and slightly flatten with the back of the spoon. Bake for 10–15 minutes, or until golden.
Cool on the tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
From Snack Power by Tiffiny Hall (£12.99, Murdoch Books), out now
Photography: Luke Albert; Sam Folan; Jenny Zarins; Brent Parker Jones/Loup/Ren Pidgeon
Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.