Every week, a DIY expert spares us a trip to the grocery store and shows us how to make small batches of great foods at home.
I have a known obsession with French fries. But sometimes I think half the reason I eat so many of them on a weekly basis is because they are the best vehicles for condiments.
I have very little self-control when it comes to buying, making, and hoarding condiments. Earlier this summer, I subletted my apartment to a friend. I told her I’d clean out the fridge of all perishables but leave everything else for her to enjoy. She must have been surprised to open the door and find the inside wall and one whole shelf stuffed to the gills with half-eaten red curry paste, nut butters, miso, and about 7 different kinds of mustard. In some ways this isn’t the worst food quirk. If you too are the type of person who can’t leave the farmers' market without buying an expensive (but interesting!) jar of jam, at least you know said purchases will have a long shelf-life. But in addition to turning your fridge into a condiment hospice, store-bought sauces in jars are possibly the most over-priced food products in existence.
Which brings me to the subject of tahini. When a gourmet store dedicated entirely to mayonnaise opens in Brooklyn, even I am apt to roll my eyes. It’s one of the easiest condiments to make, and tastes much better prepared from scratch. But tahini is one of those condiments that most people, even many die-hard DIY-ers, don’t bat an eyelash about buying at the store. And it’s equally simple to prepare from scratch: sesame seeds and oil, pureed to smithereens.
When I first set off on my DIY tahini quest, the biggest question that came up was unhulled versus hulled sesame seeds. Many recipes didn’t specify, but when I experimented, the results were pretty different. Most commercial tahinis use hulled seeds, in addition to special machinery, lots and lots of oil, and superior processing, and thus, their tahini is silky smooth.
By comparison, a homemade unhulled version is decidedly the ugly stepsister of the tahini family. But it may be more beautiful on the inside. The resulting mixture is dark and very coarse – if not crunchy – and much more prone to oil separation. But it tastes deeply nutty and wouldn’t be a bad substitute for one of the many nut butters I have knocking around in my fridge.
The hulled seeds at home will still give you a condiment that’s a lot less creamy than the store bought version. So if you’re addicted to the kind of tahini that sticks to the roof of your mouth, perhaps your brand of choice is worth the $6 you spend on it. But for me, queen of condiments, I’m happy to have one less wayward jar in my fridge, waiting for the next time I need a tablespoon for my salad dressing. When the craving for falafel hits, I pick up a couple dimes’ worth of bulk bin sesame seeds, and in under 10 minutes, my condiment du jour is ready for consumption.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
For a coarser texture and more flavorful tahini, use unhulled seeds. For something smoother and creamier, go with the hulled sesame. I used a mixture of olive oil and vegetable oil. I found the flavor of the olive oil over-powering in a large quantity, but liked having a little bit to give it complexity. I also used a lot more total oil than most recipes out there called for (1:1 seeds to oil versus 4:1). If you find your paste comes together with less, by all means hold your horses.
1 cup sesame seeds, hulled or unhulled
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 - 3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons warm water
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Arrange the sesame seeds on a parchment-lined baking sheet in an even layer. Toast them until golden brown and fragrant, shaking the pan halfway through cooking to redistribute, about 6 minutes. Allow the seeds to cool slightly.
Transfer the sesame seeds to a small food processor or blender. Add the olive oil and puree, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until a paste forms.
Add the salt and 1/4 cup vegetable oil. Continue to puree until smooth. Add the water – this will give the mixture a lighter, smoother texture. Puree until the tahini is thinner than a nut butter, smooth and spreadable. Add more oil in 1/4 cup increments until you achieve this texture (it took me a whole cup!).
Transfer the tahini to a sterilized jar and keep in the fridge for up to a month with all of your other condiments, or use immediately in your hummus recipe or as a nutty vinaigrette.
Phoebe will be answering questions about tahini on the Hotline for those of you who want to take on this project at home. For the quickest response, go to her recipe and ask a question from there -- we'll email her your question right away!
Check back next week, when The Wednesday Chef's Luisa Weiss shows us her favorite way to pickle eggplant!