Also known as tahina, this finely ground paste of husked and roasted sesame seeds is an absolutely basic ingredient and flavouring of Middle Eastern foods. It can be used in savoury or sweet dishes and is perhaps best known in the Western world as a component of hummus or chickpea dip and in the classic sweet halva.
Widely available in bigger supermarkets and specialty and Middle Eastern shops.
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Some products use more highly roasted sesame seeds, giving a richer, deeper colour and a slightly more bitter flavour. Olive oil might be mixed with the paste to make a gentler flavour and it can also be found mixed with cocoa, honey and other ingredients.
While tahini does not need to be refrigerated and lasts many weeks at ambient temperatures, it will eventually oxidise and go rancid. Buy in small quantities to avoid this, or keep it well sealed and cool or refrigerated, when it will be safe for many months.
Tahini can be used as a dip, spread or sauce for almost anything from breads and pasta, spinach and baked potatoes, to roast lamb and pan-fried fish. It might be added to a salad dressing, to pan juices for roast meats or used to flavour baked rolls and breads – even in pastries. Provided it is not inherently bitter because of over roasting, it can be combined in all manner of creative ways with fruits and can be found in ice cream and cream-based desserts, too.