Tahini, Middle Eastern ground sesame paste, often gets shunned as a supporting player when blended into hummus or smeared on shawarma. But it's versatile (and shelf-stable) enough to earn a permanent spot on our refrigerator shelves. We polled a panel of pro chefs on how they like to let it shine.
Savory Sandwich Spread
Chef Anthony Russo is the founder of Russo's Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen and Russo's New York Pizzeria based in Houston.
Tahini is super flavorful, and it's great with grilled meats and roasted tomatoes or peppers. I smear flatbread with tahini, then add grilled chicken, romaine, Roma tomatoes, and red onion for a really quick snack or sandwich, like an Italian hero with a tiny twist.
Classically trained in Italy, Amalia Scatena uses refined Mediterranean techniques, seasonal ingredients, and local products at her Charleston newcomer Cannon Green.
I'm crazy for avocado toast. I'll take a really good sourdough or multigrain bread, toast it, and put tahini on top while the bread is warm and avocado on top of that. It's a great combination.
Play Up Its Sweet Side
Brad Farmerie is the executive chef behind beloved New York spots such as Michelin-starred PUBLIC, neighborhood gem Saxon + Parole, and cocktail dens The Daily and Madam Geneva, as well as The Thomas and Fagiani's Bar in Napa Valley, CA, Saxon + Parole in Moscow, and the GENUINE restaurants.
My maternal grandparents are Lebanese, so we always had tahini around the kitchen growing up. One of my favorite applications is to mix it with yogurt and honey and put it on granola. You get this sweet-sour-sesame-toasted topping that tastes like you're doing something bad to yourself. That combination also makes an amazing panna cotta, or a great topping for fruit tarts, especially anything in the apple, pear or quince realm. And you don't need a recipe—just mix, taste, and adjust. Then you can sprinkle black sesame seed over the whole plate of whatever you're serving for garnish. It also makes a really nice sesame brittle ice cream; we blend honey and tahini together and then swirl it into a finished ice cream for texture.
A Creamy Vinaigrette
Originally from Missouri, Rachel Dow, the executive chef The Betty, has lived and worked in Chicago for over a decade. She honed her skills at classic restaurants like Perennial, Blackbird, Maude's Liquor Bar, and Avec.
People toss around the word "umami" way too much, but I think tahini is one of those foods where it applies. I use tahini to beef up vinaigrettes. We blend it with lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, and enough water to thin it out, since it's pretty thick when you start. It's a simple and straightforward dressing, but it offers a lot of things, adding a good background richness, and layering flavors, building and rounding out the dish.
Peanut Butter Replacement
Proud Clevelander Jonathon Sawyer has improved the city's dining culture with restaurants like Trentina, The Greenhouse Tavern, and Noodlecat and stadium restaurants Sawyer's Street Frites, Sausage & Peppers, and SeeSaw Pretzel Shoppe. A Food & Wine "Best New Chef" recipient and 2015 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef of the Great Lakes, Sawyer has appeared on Bizarre Foods America with Andrew Zimmern, Iron Chef America, Dinner Impossible, Unique Eats, The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and most recently The Chew.
I like sweet applications for tahini outside the token vinaigrette, though after traveling to Israel, it's hard to be excited about tahini back home since we don't have a particularly great source for high-quality tahini here. But as a standard, I think tahini is great as a replacement for peanut butter in a PB&J. Same thing in ice cream or affogato; throw tahini in instead of peanut butter.
At Moderne Barn in Armonk, NY, chef Ethan Kostbar cooks new American cuisine with influences from his travels through the Middle East and Europe.
Tahini is something I'm very comfortable with, having grown up in Israel. I make it mostly into marinades and then use it where you'd think of adding a miso glaze. Dilute some tahini with lemon juice and olive oil until it's a loose paste (sometimes I add a little cumin and coriander), then coat a nice fatty fish like salmon or black cod, sprinkling with any seasoning you like, and bake it at a low temperature, around 300 degrees. Tahini is very strong in flavor, so you need a fish that can kind of match the intensity, and a fattier fish stands up to the paste really well.
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