My culinary heritage is Romanian, both my parents were born there and arrived here as immigrants in the late 1940's.
If you ask people nowadays what they know of Romanian food, they will always start with Romanian Kebab, and quickly add: eaten with a lot of freshly minced garlic. The foodies among them would then point out that what actually distinguishes Romanian cooking is the heavy use of garlic, in almost everything.
I too love garlic and make sure it's present in most of the dishes I cook.
In fact, I can postpone going grocery shopping when I run out of many ingredients I try to make sure to always stock, but when I see I'm running out of garlic… I'm out of the door in a flash.
Tahini makes it to the top of my grocery list
In the past couple of years I have found yet another culinary home in vegan cooking. In it I have come to realize that yet another yummy ingredient has also risen to the same status as garlic has in my life: Tahini – ground sesame paste.
Ever-present in our Middle-eastern culinary landscape, tahini is abundant as both the ubiquitous sidekick to famous fast foods, like Falafel, and also as an ingredient in main dishes like Sinniyah (originally a ground and seasoned meat layer topped with tahini and baked, but stay tuned to my vegan version coming your way soon), and eggplant rolls grilled in tomato sauce, to name but two.
Schools of Tahini devotees
Tahini is so prevalent in our parts that you can find rival schools purporting their choice of paste – by maker, origin of sesame seed, use of whole grains etc. - as being superior to the others.
There are also different schools in preparing the basic sauce – from puritans that only add water and salt, to more elaborate versions, like my own favorite – with lemon juice and garlic (surprise surprise:-), to even more elaborate versions with minced parsley and even 'yellow tahini' made with liquid extract of turmeric (I'll add recipes for all of these soon).
The all-purpose paste
In our home tahini is a basic staple just as much as garlic is. We always have a bowl of tahini sauce in the fridge, and if i find that said bowl has miraculously vanished and found its way to the sink to be washed, it only takes about 90 seconds to prepare a new one, as you can see in my Tahini sauce recipe.
I use the sauce as the basic spread for sandwiches, as the perfect company to fried patties, as the extra layer of yumminess in eggplant rolls, as the substitute layer in dishes that are usually made with cream or cheese layers, as an ingredient in smoothies, and in many many more kinds of food I prepare.
And it's even good for you
Non-vegans get most of their required calcium intake from consuming dairy products. Tahini is the perfect source for the same amount of calcium for my vegan love. So in my kitchen it scores double: both delicious and nutritious.
I also usually stock the whole seed tahini paste that is 6 times(!) richer in calcium than the regular paste. As this version has more of a 'heavy' taste, I mix it with the regular paste to enjoy the extra nutritional value and still maintain the taste we are accustomed to.
Can i have it in sweet?
And if for a second you thought it's only good as a savory food, let me set the record straight: it can also be the basis of great sweet delights. The first is Halva – tahini in caramelized form we only buy already made, and in small quantities, as whenever we have it at home we can't stop ourselves from eating it until it's all gone :-)
Or Tahini cookies, an easy recipe where the biggest challenge in making is letting them cool off and harden before devouring. Lastly they play a major role in a desert of my own making I will soon share.
Tahini – a readily available ingredient, nutritious, delicious, versatile and easily made into whatever you like.