Hummus isn’t the only use for nutty-tasting tahini

Marlene Parrish
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

I like “eeny” words. Bikini, martini, blini, fini, that sort. My current ear worm is “itsy bitsy teeny weeny gooey tasty tan tahini.”

Tahini is a paste of toasted, ground, hulled sesame seeds. Most of us know it as an ingredient in hummus, baba ghanoush and halva or in a sauce for falafel. It’s a mainstay in the cuisines of the eastern Mediterranean region and in Southeast Asia, too.

But here at home, tahini is having its moment in the world of confections, condiments and dips, where it adds a subtle nutty note that is rich and somewhat savory while boosting sweetness. It’s definitely addicting.

The darling of the internet, tahini also is turning up in salad dressings, smoothies and dishes of all kinds. You can find tahini in Middle Eastern stores or in the supermarket where peanut butter is shelved. Since tahini is high in healthy fat, and is gluten-free and dairy-free, its appeal is huge. Our tested recipes will get you started.

Tahini chocolate-chip cookies: Customize these cookies, and make them large or small, soft or crispy. A sprinkle of flaky salt gives a good crunch. Save these cookies for the grown-ups, because the subtle flavors probably will be lost on the kiddos.

Easiest tahini cookies: A triple threat with pine nuts, tahini and sesame seeds, the dough for these cookies is whirled in the food processor and ready in seconds. Then roll dough balls in black sesame seeds and crunchy demerara (big crystal) sugar for contrasts of texture and color.

Tahini sauce: It’s a real keeper, and can be made three ways: Plain, to serve over greens or grilled fish; herby green, to serve as a dip with crudites; or Japanese Sesame Dressing to serve over grilled vegetables or fish such as tuna.

Hummus: Sure, there are so many ready-made variations, why would you make your own? Because it’s better for you, and besides, then you’ll have an open container of tahini in the fridge and good reason to use it up. For the hummus, just combine chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, garlic and lemon juice in the processor. Serve topped with a swirl of olive oil, a dash of paprika and a toss of reserved whole chickpeas.

Salted Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies

Give the kids Toll House cookies, and save these tahini-enhanced cookies for the grown-ups. The flavor is nutty and subtle — and when you get a hit of salt, it’s absolutely fabulous.

4 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature

1/2 cup tahini, well stirred

1 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

13/4 cups chocolate chips or chunks, bittersweet or semisweet

Flaky salt, such as fleur de sel or Maldon

In an electric mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, tahini and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add egg, egg yolk and vanilla, and continue mixing at medium speed for another 5 minutes.

Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and kosher salt into a large bowl and mix with a fork. Add flour mixture to butter mixture at low speed until just combined. Use a rubber spatula to fold in chocolate chips. Dough will be soft, not stiff. Refrigerate at least 12 hours; this ensures tender cookies.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Use a large-ish ice cream scoop or spoon to form dough into 12 to 18 balls for big, softer cookies. Use a tablespoon to measure out walnut-size pieces to make many smaller, very crisp cookies.

Place the larger cookies on the baking sheet at least 3 inches apart to allow them to spread. Bake 13 to 16 minutes until just golden brown around the edges but still pale in the middle to make thick, soft cookies.

Place smaller cookies on a baking sheet and bake about 10 to 12 minutes. Watch them. As cookies come out of the oven, sprinkle sparsely with salt. Let cool at least 20 minutes on a rack.

Makes either 12 to 18 big cookies or 45 smaller, normal-sized ones.

— Adapted from Julia Moskin, The New York Times

Tahini Cookies With Pine Nuts

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

1/3 cup powdered sugar

1/3 cup tahini

1/4 cup room temperature unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons black sesame seeds

2 tablespoons demerara sugar (big crystal)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Pulse all-purpose flour, pine nuts, powdered sugar, tahini, butter and salt in a food processor until dough forms a ball around blade.

Mix sesame seeds and demerara sugar in a small bowl. Form dough into 1-inch balls, and roll in sesame seed mixture.

Place on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart and flattening slightly. Bake cookies until lightly golden, about 20 minutes.

Allow to cool on the tray for 2 minutes before transferring to a rack.

Makes about 24.

— Bon Appetit Magazine, November 2014

Basic Tahini Sauce

1/2 cup tahini, well stirred

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 lemons), more to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt, more to taste

6 tablespoons water

1 clove garlic

Red pepper flakes, optional

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together tahini, lemon juice, cumin, salt and tablespoons of water until smooth and emulisfied. Use a rasp grater to finely grate the garlic into the bowl. Stir, taste and adjust salt and lemon as needed.

Need some pep? Add a pinch of pepper flakes. Cover and refrigerate leftovers up to a week.

— Marlene Parrish

Green Tahini Sauce

1 cup basic tahini sauce

1/4 cup chopped parsley

2 tablespoons chopped chives

2 tablespoons chopped dill

2 teaspoons chopped mint

2 teaspoons chopped cilantro

Place all ingredients in a food processor and whirl until combined. Serve as a dip with crudites, or thin with a little water and drizzle over grilled lamb, fish or veggies.

— Marlene Parrish

Japanese Sesame Dressing

1/2 cup tahini

1/4 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar

4 tablespoons water

Few drops sesame oil

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon mirin

1 clove garlic, grated

Whisk together all ingredients. Serve with broccoli, beans, cauliflower or alongside grilled tuna. Thinned with a bit of water, dress it with a salad of thinly sliced cucumbers.

— Samin Nosrat, The New York Times


Hummus is basically chickpea paste. In this hummus recipe, adapted from “How to Cook Everything,” tahini is essential, as are garlic and lemon. But the dip is very flexible: cumin and pimenton are optional add-ons, as well as herbs or blends like za’atar. Save a few whole chickpeas to toss on the surface as a garnish.

2 cups drained well-cooked or canned chickpeas, liquid reserved

1/2 cup tahini

1 tablespoon ground cumin or paprika, plus more for sprinkling

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves peeled garlic, or to taste

Juice of 1 lemon, plus more as needed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

Put chickpeas, tahini, cumin or paprika, oil, garlic and lemon juice in a food processor. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and begin to process. Add chickpea cooking liquid or water as needed to produce a smooth puree.

Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt, pepper or lemon juice as needed.

Serve, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with a bit of cumin, paprika and a little chopped parsley.

— Mark Bittman, The New York Times