When I teach cooking classes, I often wrap up with a quick demo of how to make homemade hummus. Recently, as I was working my way through the recipe, one of my students mentioned that she rarely makes homemade hummus because she hates having to buy tahini for use in one single food preparation. Is there anything that can be done with tahini outside of making hummus, she wanted to know?
At first, I had to fight off my surprise: I love tahini so much that it was difficult to imagine ever struggling to make use of some excess. But every ingredient is foreign until it’s not, and sesame paste is no exception.
I told my student that it’s perfectly cool to make hummus with olive oil in place of tahini. But so long as we were chatting about tahini—and the different things that can be made with it—I was happy to supply some ideas.
Tahini is a veritable staple food in my home. I love its mildness; while sesame may be an acquired taste for some, I find tahini to be so much more versatile and neutral than other nut or seed butters. Meanwhile, it can add smooth creaminess to a whole slew of recipes, hummus included.
Creamy texture can be a challenge in vegan cooking: coconut milk is one option, but I often find it too heavy and the coconut flavor too distinctive for milder dishes. Cashew cream is my go-to, and probably my favorite way to add creaminess to soups, curries, and desserts, but it’s not the sort of ingredient you can whip out of the pantry and use at a moment’s notice. Commercial non-dairy milk (especially soy) works some of the time, but it’s often too thin to get the job done.
Tahini can often rise to the challenge where these other options fall short. It can add a touch of fattiness and creamy texture to soups and dips at a moment’s notice (no blending or soaking of nuts required). It contributes some subtle flavor, but it’s not overwhelming. It’s undeniably rich, but it doesn’t tend to overwhelm food. And in spite of the fact that we all associate it with hummus and baba ganoush, it’s incredibly versatile.
Here’s a small sampling of things you can do with tahini that have nothing at all to do with hummus:
1. Salad dressing. I love a great vinaigrette as much as the next salad fanatic, but tahini dressings—which are a little richer and more substantial than most oil-based dressings—hold a special place in my heart.
2. Toast. Tired of peanut butter and avocado on toast? Probably not (I’m not, either), but if you’re in the mood for variety, tahini toast is pretty awesome. I especially like to top it with fresh tomatoes, sprinkled with sea salt and a turn of pepper.
3. Smoothies. Tahini and banana make for a surprisingly blissful combination, and tahini does a wonderful job of adding subtle thickness to smoothies. Try blending up a frozen banana, a cup of non-dairy milk, a heaping tablespoon of tahini, and a medjool date or two—maybe with a pinch of garam masala or cinnamon. Divine.
4. Baking. Somehow, the toasted flavor of tahini becomes delightfully concentrated through the baking process, and it can give new dimension to quick breads, blondies, and cookies. (I tend to think it creates a denser texture in these recipes, too, which I personally really like.)
5. Curries, skillets, stews. Stirring a tablespoon or two of tahini into a stewed vegetable dish can add not only that hint of toasted, sesame flavor but also a pleasant and subtle creaminess. I’m personally dying to try a spoonful or two in my favorite bharta recipe.
6. Non-dairy milk. Sesame seeds themselves make for a wonderful, homemade non-dairy milk, but tahini milk can be a quick and easy shortcut—plus, it doesn’t necessitate the use of a fancy blender.
7. Pasta salad. In place of the usual mayonnaise treatment, tahini can add fantastic texture to pasta salad; it coats things nicely without being overly heavy, it plays nicely with either lemon or vinegar, and it’s perfect for dairy free eaters and vegans alike.
8. Speaking of pasta salad: Tahini and soba noodles are a match made in summery lunchtime heaven.
9. Soups (hot or cold). My first introduction to using tahini in soup was blending it into gazpacho, a somewhat random decision that ultimately resulted in a silky texture that I loved. Now I use it not only in chilled summer soup (asparagus, zucchini) but also in tomato soup, red lentil soup, and sweet potato bisque.
10. Vegan caramel sauce. The only thing more delicious than date caramel is date caramel with a few tablespoons of tahini and a pinch of sea salt blended in. Trust me on this one.
A few logistical details: My choice for all of the aforementioned recipes is roasted tahini, rather than raw. If the idea of a slightly toasted flavor is for some reason not appealing, then raw tahini might be a good option; it’s mild and pale in color, and I tend to think that the flavor is comparable to cashew butter. I tend to prefer thinner brands of tahini, which are easiest to whisk into dressings or fold into stews, and I store my jar of tahini in a cool, dark pantry, rather than the fridge, which makes it easy to mix and blend.
And if we’re being honest, I’m usually storing two jars at a time. In my experience, having extra is a great problem to have.
How else do you use tahini? Share some ideas in the comments below.