05 October 2010

Basic Technique: Tahini Sauce

Here's a basic technique of Middle Eastern cuisine: tahini sauce. This is the classic way of preparing tahini, not just a sauce but a component of a myriad of dishes. Add pureed chickpeas to this and you have hummus, add mashed eggplant to it and you have baba ghanoush. Drizzle it on top of fish, toss it with dice tomatoes, or stir it into cooked swiss chard. This technique is embedded in hundreds of Middle Eastern recipe.

tahini sauce
This technique also has a cool chemical reaction in it: the interaction between the tahini and the lemon juice. The acid in the lemon juice causes a very runny tahini sauce to thicken up and become stiff and solid. (Any chemists out there who can explain this??)

This is an old school recipe that's best done with a mortar and pestle. You can do this in a food processor, but I rarely do (mainly because I hate cleaning the food processor), but also because I find it doesn't do a very good job smashing the garlic.

Tahini Sauce
This sauce is classic, and rarely needs anything else, but feel free to try adding a pinch of cumin or Aleppo pepper just to mix things up.

1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup tahini
juice of 2 lemons (must be fresh!)

1. Bash the garlic and salt in a mortar and pestle until it reaches a smooth paste. Transfer the paste to a bowl and stir in the tahini.
2. Add in the lemon juice, you will see the sauce become very white and "tight." Slowly add in water until the mixture reaches a smooth paste (don't be surprised, you may have to add up to 1 to 2 cups of water). The sauce should be thick put pourable. Season as desired.


Anonymous said...

The lemon thickening thing is indeed weird! I like tahini with sweet tomatoes in the summer!

Susan Guggenheim said...

I've made tashi or Cypriot tahini sauce for years, after learning how from my Cypriot neighbors in Wood Green, London where I lived for a few years.
They taught me to use a glass bowl and a wooden spoon.
Start with equal parts tahini and HOT water - we want to double the volume. There is a physical change that happens with the hot water: the tahini changes consistency twice, first into a dark brown loose ball like gummy oatmeal, and second, in almost halva-like texture, grainy and lighter in color. It's only when it reaches the second stage that we would add the lemon juice - enough to smooth out and lighten the tahini. It's critical to beat in a clockwise direction, with a wooden spoon, vigorously until you reach 2nd stage.

So by Cypriot proportions, that's a 8 oz. jar/can of tahini, 1 cup min. of hot water (not boiled, tap hot), the strained juice from 5-6 lemons, salt and 1 Tbl. each finely chopped garlic and parsley.

Once you make tahini in this way, by hand, with hot water, I don't think you will ever want to use a processor again. Too thin, too oily, not fluffy enough due to lack of volume for volume hot water, not lemony enough due to lack of incorporation with a spoon.

Making tashi is one of my all time favorite things to do. It's meditative and magical. And it tastes superior, too!

UmmBinat said...

This is good masha Allah. I did it all in my mortar & pestle in a lesser amount using sea salt. I would make this again!!!

Upholstery Cleaning said...

Good idea and so healthy and delicious sauce!

Róisín said...

when you say "tahini" as an ingredient in the above recipe - do you mean sesame seeds?