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Tahini

A health food par-excellence

By Habeeb Salloum

Issue #89 • September/October, 2004

Since time immemorial tahini has been a choice food in the countries which edge the eastern Mediterranean. The product of hulled and crushed sesame seeds, this delectable, nourishing, and wholesome thick paste with a nutty flavor is the mayonnaise of the Middle East. In consistency and looks it reminds you of peanut butter, but it has a more subtle taste. It is highly valued as a condiment in these venerable lands and, in particular, it has many culinary and health benefits attributed to it. To the people of the Levant, it is a near perfect food.

Tahini (also spelled taheeni, taheneh or tahineh, which comes from the Arabic word tahana meaning to grind) is very nutritious, containing many of the food values needed by the human body. It has no cholesterol, is relatively sodium free, and is made up from about 50% fat, 20% protein, 16% carbohydrates, 5% fibre. It also contains a good amount of calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins C and E. In the Middle Eastern lands it has long been believed that, when combined with legumes, tahini becomes the ultimate human edible.

In the past ages, this sesame seed product, besides being employed as a tasty food enhancer in the kitchen, was eaten to restore vitality and sex appeal, and as a bowel movement stimulant. Today, modern science has established that these ancient attributes have some merit. It has found that sesame seeds have some anti-aging qualities helpful in the improvement of skin capillaries and the smooth movement of food through the body.

Versatile in all types of cooking, tahini is utilized in a wide variety of everyday dishes. However, it is chiefly used as a basic vehicle in many sauces and dips, and as a healthy substitute for butter on bread.

A common sauce is made from tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and, at times, other seasonings. This tangy mixture can be served by itself as an appetizer, or combined with avocados, chickpeas, eggplants, potatoes, and a number of other vegetables to create vegetarian delights. It is served with fish and all types of barbecued meats, or employed as a dressing in falafel sandwiches and salads. It is also excellent for seasoning soups and stews and as an ingredient in candies or baking products. A mix of an equal amount of this paste and honey makes a tasty, healthy syrup, which is great with pancakes and waffles or as a morning dip for bread.

Tahini is manufactured in a number of countries, but in the main it is imported from the Middle East, the finest quality coming from Syria and Turkey. It can be purchased bottled or canned from Mediterranean markets and is found in most health, specialty, and gourmet stores. It will keep fresh for months if refrigerated, but if it stands on the shelf for long periods of time it separates and must be stirred before use.

In the large North American cities, tahini's consumption is fast spreading in the health conscious stratums of society. A tasty and health food par-excellence, it is ensnaring, on a continuing basis, new adherents in all parts of the world.

Hot tahini sauce

This sauce can be used as a dip for raw vegetables or as a sauce with falafel, cooked vegetables, and meats.
5 Tbsp. tahini
4 Tbsp. lemon juice
4 Tbsp. olive oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed
4 Tbps. finely chopped fresh parsley or coriander leaves
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1/3 cup water

Place all ingredients in a food processor, then process into a paste, adding more water if necessary. Refrigerate, then use as needed.

Tahini parsley delight

This dish is excellent when served as an appetizer or as a dip. It goes well with fish dishes.
½ cup tahini
½ cup lemon juice
½ cup water
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
½ tsp. cumin
pinch cayenne
1-½ cups finely chopped parsley

Place all ingredients, except parsley, in a food processor, then process for a minute. Transfer to a serving bowl, then stir in the parsley and serve.

Avacado and tahini spread

1 large or 2 small ripe avocados, (about 1 lb.)
1 clove garlic
4 Tbps. tahini
4 Tbsp. olive oil
4 Tbsp. water
4 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley or coriander
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
pinch cayenne

Pit and quarter the avocados, then place them, along with all ingredients, in a food processor and process into paste. Serve spread on crackers or toasted bread.

Tahini and yogurt appetizer

Serves 4 to 6.
1 cup plain yogurt
4 Tbsp. tahini
4 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh coriander leaves (cilantro)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 Tbsp. vinegar
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
pinch cayenne
1 small tomato, finely chopped
olive oil

Place all ingredients, except tomato and olive oil, in a blender and blend into smooth paste. Spread on a serving platter, then decorate with tomato and sprinkle with a little olive oil before serving.

Hummis bi tahini

Serves about 8.

This renowned Middle Eastern dish has become a favorite of many people in Europe and North America. Research has established that this dish contains a high quality protein, as well as anti-oxidants which help prevent heart disease and cancer, and that it can be utilized as a milk substitute for toddlers because it is less allergy-producing than soybeans—a commonly used alternative to milk.

2 cups cooked chickpeas
4 Tbsp. tahini
4 Tbsp. lemon juice
4 Tbsp. water
3 Tbsp. olive oil
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. cumin
pinch cayenne
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley

Place all ingredients, except parsley, in food processor, then process into a smooth paste, adding a little more water if necessary. Spread on a platter, then decorate with parsley. Sprinkle with a little olive oil and serve.

Eggplant puree

Serves about 8. This can be served as an appetizer, dip, or salad.
1 eggplant, about 1 lb.
4 Tbsp. tahini
4 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1 small tomato, finely chopped

Place eggplant in a 350° F preheated oven, then bake for one hour. Remove and allow to cool, then peel.

Place with remaining ingredients, except tomato, in a food processor, then process into smooth paste. Spread on a platter, then decorate with tomato. Sprinkle with a little olive oil, then serve.

Tahini and cucumber salad

Serves 6
4 medium cucumbers, about 1 pound, or 454 g, chopped into small pieces
½ cup finely chopped green onions
½ cup finely chopped parsley or fresh coriander leaves
½ cup crumpled feta cheese
3 Tbsp. tahini
3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. vinegar
2 Tbsp. water
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne

Combine cucumbers, onions, parsley or coriander and cheese in a salad bowl, then set aside.

Thoroughly mix remaining ingredients and pour over vegetables. Toss and serve.

Tahini and potato salad

Serves from 6 to 8
oil for frying
4 cups potatoes, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
4 Tbsp. tahini
4 Tbsp. lemon juice
3 Tbsp. olive oil
6 Tbsp. water
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper

Heat oil, then deep fry potatoes. Place potatoes on a platter, then set aside.

Thoroughly combine remaining ingredients, adding more water if necessary, then spread evenly over potatoes and serve.

Tahini-oat muffins

2 cups rolled oats
1-½ cups whole wheat flour
1 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 cup milk
½ cup tahini
½ cup olive oil
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup raisins, rinsed
½ cup walnuts, crushed into small pieces

Combine the oats, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl, then set aside.

Thoroughly combine the milk, tahini, olive oil, eggs and vanilla, then stir into ingredients in the mixing bowl, adding a little water if necessary. Stir in the raisins and walnuts. Place in greased muffin trays, then bake in a 350°F (180° C) preheated oven for 25 minutes or until the muffins are done.

Icing for muffins

6 Tbsp. tahini
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup icing sugar
water

Place tahini, vanilla, and icing sugar in a food processor, then process, adding a little water until the icing is the consistency of soft paste.

Remove the muffins from the oven and allow to cool. Spread the icing over top of the muffins, then allow them to stand for a few hours before serving.

Baked fish in tahini

Serves from 6 to 8.
2 lb. (907 g) fish filet
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
4 Tbsp. olive oil
½ cup tahini
½ cup lemon juice
½ cup water
1/8 tsp. cayenne
2 medium onions, finely chopped and fried

Rub fish fillet with salt, pepper, and oil, then bake in a 350° F (180° C) preheated oven for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, combine tahini, lemon juice, water, and cayenne. Pour over baked fish, then spread fried onions evenly over top of fish. Bake for another 10 minutes, then serve hot.




Read More by Habeeb Salloum

Read More Food & Recipes Articles

 
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