Tahini Pesto Is the Best Pesto

March 18, 2021
Photo by Ty Mecham. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne.

If I gave you a jar of tahini, what would you do with it? There are 100 answers in The Tahini Table by Amy Zitelman with Andrew Schloss. (Along with her sisters, Shelby and Jackie, Amy co-founded Soom, which makes tahini so delicious, I often eat it by the spoonful while blissfully staring into space.) The cookbook spans sweet and savory, from tahini pancakes to tahini-creamed greens. And sauces. Actually, an entire chapter on sauces. Below, I asked Amy what makes tahini so sauce-able—and snagged some recipes you’ll want to pour on everything. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

EMMA LAPERRUQUE: There are over two dozen recipes for sauces alone in this book. What inspired you to write that chapter? And how did you dream up the recipes?

AMY ZITELMAN: As a busy entrepreneur/mom, I'm not ashamed to admit that I've often added tahini to a store-bought sauce already in my refrigerator. But as I’ve become more health conscious, and with my son getting older and liking to help in the kitchen, I’ve realized that homemade sauces are a perfect solution to a lot of my personal and familial needs. Henry loves to whisk—and ends up eating whatever we put the sauce on more often.

It was such a dream to work with Andrew (my co-author), and in our conversations it quickly came out that I'm a sauce lover. I love pesto, make a lot of stir-frys, am always dipping, etc. He helped me articulate those flavor profiles into foolproof recipes. Plus, having sauces available makes it so much easier to make a meal fast—pour them over protein, veggies, or grains, and you are good to go!

EL: In almost all of those recipes, water is an ingredient. What's the importance of water in a tahini sauce?

AZ: Water and tahini is a bit confusing. You have two reactions occurring: One, much of tahini is oil, which of course repels water. And two, the other important component in tahini is dry particles surrounded by that oil and fat. When a small amount of water (or other liquid) is added, those particles start to stick together, making the tahini very stiff and clumpy. As you increase the amount of water, the tahini continues to thicken—until you cross the threshold, and then it will loosen and thin out again. In short, water is what transforms tahini into a bright, creamy sauce.

EL: What are some of your favorite uses for the sauces we're sharing with our readers?

AZ: My favorite way to use the Tahini Pesto is to simply put it on pasta! I love pasta, and having a healthy and fresh sauce makes it feel more well rounded. Tahini Barbecue Sauce is perfect on chicken for the grill—it encourages the flames and gets the chicken a bit burnt on the outside. I love dipping pizza (every bite) into Tahini Ranch. And I toss big florets of roasted cauliflower with the Buffalo Tahini Sauce—a great alternative to chicken wings. Tahini Ranch as a dipping sauce is a bonus.

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


CliffB March 19, 2021
"Tahini Pesto" isn't pesto, just as aw chicken isn't sashimi. . . More foolish cultural appropriation. What next? Couscous made with orzo pasta and pulled pork?
CliffB March 19, 2021
aw = raw
ellen March 21, 2021
Semantics, maybe? Vs. Cultural appropriation? And/or a way to introduce people to tahini?