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“Rare is the dish not improved with a drizzle of tahini sauce,” writes Yotam Ottolenghi in a recent New York Times article. “Grilled meats and fish, roasted root vegetables, a chopped fresh tomato and cucumber salad: All are enriched by it.”
For many years, I stocked tahini solely for the purpose of making hummus from scratch, which meant it sat in my pantry for months at a time untouched. But in 2012, with the release of Jerusalem, this changed. Every other recipe, I remember thinking as I first turned those colorful, alluring pages, called for a drizzle of tahini in some shape or form, sometimes mixed with yogurt, sometimes with olive oil, sometimes with pomegranate molasses, always with lemon.
Ottolenghi, Jerusalem, Plenty More
When I flip through Jerusalem today, the awe of the book persists, but the recipes feel more familiar. Tahini sauce: Of course it would be drizzled over roasted sweet potatoes and red onions; of course it should dress freshly fried cauliflower and scallions; of course it’s the perfect condiment for pine nut-studded cinnamon-spiced lamb meatballs.
My loyalty to tahini sauce began one night in the middle of a particularly long upstate New York winter, when a drizzle of it along with a pinch of za’atar transformed a tray of lackluster roasted sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnips, making me no longer dread my region's root-heavy produce season. My devotion to tahini sauce continues throughout the year, particularly now, three weeks into my summer CSA, which, as expected, has been dominated by greens: heads of kale and lettuce, heaps of arugula and tatsoi, leafy bundles of turnips and radishes. Inspired by a favorite recipe in Jerusalem—Swiss chard with tahini, yogurt, and buttered pine nuts—this adaptation simplifies the recipe by keeping the greens raw, but adds farro to make it more of a meal.
If you use par-cooked grains, which are readily available in most markets these days, or quinoa, which cooks quickly, this salad comes together in no time: while the grains simmer, you finely chop the greens, stir together the sauce (raw tahini, lemon juice, garlic, water, and salt), and toast the pine nuts. Once the grains are cooked, you toss them with the greens, olive oil, and fresh lemon. When ready to serve, spoon the lemony, garlicky sauce over each bowl, and sprinkle with toasted pine nuts. Be sure to pass extra sauce on the side—it's natural to want a drizzle over every bite.
A Few Tips
- As simple as this recipe is, it tastes, thanks to the tahini, complex. This is not to say it would not welcome additions: chopped raw cucumbers and tomatoes, thinly sliced radishes and turnips, chopped scallions, herbs—whatever you have on hand or whatever you are finding at the market.
- Any number of grains (bulgur, wheat berries, quinoa, barley), greens (Swiss chard, kale, arugula), and nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts) will work well here. The key is to finely chop the greens—large pieces make it difficult to eat.
- In the Times article referenced above, Yotam mentions a mill in East Jerusalem, which makes exceptional tahini, noting, “If what you think of as tahini is not creamy and delicious and nutty enough to eat directly from the jar, then you’re missing a trick.” I’ve never been able to enjoy tahini as Yotam describes, and so, to compensate when using it to make sauces, I often add a teensy bit of maple syrup or honey, which removes the bitterness without making the sauce taste sweet. Because tahini paste varies in texture and taste from brand to brand, it’s important to adjust the sauce to taste.
- 1.5 cups par-cooked farro, see notes above
- kosher salt to taste
- 3 to 5 ounces greens, such as kale, Swiss chard, arugula
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
- fresh cracked pepper
- 1 lemon, halved, plus more to taste
- 1/4 cup well-stirred tahini paste
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup
- 1 clove garlic, minced, optional, see notes above
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
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