Tahini, says Chef Adeena Sussman, (although she prefers pronouncing it tehina, as it’s said in Hebrew), that creamy compound of ground sesame seeds, has finally arrived on the American table.
It’s certainly a central ingredient for Sussman, an American chef who is based in New York and spends half the year in Israel, living in Tel Aviv with her fiancé. It’s also the title — “Tahini” — of her recently-published Short Stack cookbook, a notepad-sized volume of 21 home kitchen recipes, all geared around healthy dollops of this sesame seed spread.
There are the tahini staples, like chickpea spread hummus and eggplant salad baba ghanouj, both of which nearly always include tahini. They’re followed by a full menu of tahini-centric recipes that Sussman whipped up in her Tel Aviv kitchen, such as the now-popular Spicy Tahini, Butter & Maple Glazed Carrots or Tahini Sandwich Cookies (“They’re really indulgent but fun,” said Sussman).
Of course, all aspects of a tahini-based menu are considered, hence the Sweet Potato-Tahini Dinner Rolls; Tahini-Coated Kale Chips; Kohlrabi; Radish and Apple Salad with Yogurt-Tahini Dressing (“I like the combo of dairy and tahini together, they kind of complement and lighten each other,” said Sussman); or Skillet Chicken with Date Syrup, Sumac and Tahini, another Sussman favorite.
And while many brands of tahini are certified kosher, Sussman’s recipes are not all geared for the kosher kitchen, such as Tahini-Crusted Shrimp with Okra, Tomatoes & Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette or Grilled Lamb Steaks & Sweet Onions with Tahini-Herb Compound Butter. The idea, however, that tahini can be used in nearly dish, becomes clear as one skims, or cooks their way through the slim volume.
“It was fun to do it in situ because Israel is a kind of cornerstone of tahini,” said Sussman. “Israelis eat more tahini per capita than any other country in the world.”
In Israel, people drizzle tahini on their chopped tomato-and-cucumber salad, mix it with cooked chickpeas in hummus, use it as a sandwich spread or as a standard salad dressing ingredient, and even dollop it on their morning eggs, for an extra dose of calcium.
“Everyone has it in their house,” said Sussman. “In the US, a lot of people know it as a prepared salad, like one of the Sabra-brand salads with lemon juice and parsley. What I’m talking about is how to make tahini, familiarizing them with it.”
It was Short Stack Editions publisher Nick Fauchald who first suggested tahini as a Short Stack topic to Sussman. (He’s married to an Israeli, Short Stacks artistic editor Rotem Raffe, and loves his tahini.) The small-format books focus on inspiring ingredients and dependable recipes, with each edition dedicated to the author’s love for a favorite ingredient, and are created with home cooks in mind.
Sussman, a food writer, recipe developer and cookbook co-author who is currently working on a second cookbook with celebrity Chrissy Teigen, after co-writing last year’s best-selling “Cravings, Recipes For All The Food You Want to Eat,” has long been a fan of tahini.
Raised in Northern California, in a family that made regular trips to Israel, she was always enamored with Israeli food, and loved tahini “in its more traditional sense, drizzled on falafel or in hummus,” said Sussman. “But in the culinary world, I saw how versatile it could be in all kinds of recipes.”
There was Philadelphia’s Michael Solomonov, drizzling it on roasted cauliflower and using the sesame stuff as regularly as any Israeli chef, or New Orleans Alon Shaya’s wood-roasted okra with tahini.
It was while working on another cookbook, “Two Moms in the Raw,” a collection of raw, cooked and gluten-free meals by Shari Koolik Leidich, that Sussman saw how versatile tahini could be, and how nutritional.
“It’s a paleo superfood, and it’s low-carb and it’s got calcium,” she said.
In the book, Sussman also sources tahini for the Short Stack readers. Jars of high-quality and lower-grade tahini are available in every Israeli supermarket, but it’s not as readily available in American stores.
As part of her research, she met the founders of Soom Foods, a tahini company owned by three sisters. The husband of one of the sisters — who lives in Jerusalem — imports sesame seeds from Ethiopia, and they took Sussman on a field trip to Nablus to see a small batch of tahini being made in in a Palestinian factory that has been in the same family for three generations, and considered one of the best tahini makers.
There are other tahini sources in New York City, where Sussman is based when she isn’t in Tel Aviv. These days, said Sussman, tahini is a trendy ingredient, and is available in places like Seed and Mill, the new artisanal halva store in Chelsea Market that makes its own tahini. Soom Foods is well-entrenched in the culinary world, and is sold at select Whole Foods markets, while the national chain also imports an Israeli tahini under its 365 store brand.
Now Sussman just wants people to work on their pronunciation of the word.
“I wish we could rebrand it as tehina,” she said, pronouncing it with the guttural ‘het.’ “But that would break peoples’ tongues into pieces.”
Tahini it is.
Spicy Tahini, Butter & Maple Glazed Carrots (serves 4)
- 1½ pounds thin rainbow carrots — peeled, trimmed and halved lengthwise (or quartered lengthwise if you can find only regular carrots)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tablespoons pure tahini paste
- 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more for sprinkling
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- Preheat the oven to 400° F. In a large bowl, toss the carrots with the oil, ½ teaspoon salt and the pepper and cumin. Transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet and roast until the carrots have softened, their edges are golden and they’re kind of bendy, but don’t break apart easily (they’ll still have a bit of resistance if you test them with a fork), about 20 minutes.
- While the carrots are roasting, place the tiniest saucepan you have over low heat, add the butter and melt it; if the butter gets a little brown, don’t sweat it — just keep the heat low. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Add the tahini, maple syrup, chile flakes, lemon juice and the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, whisk to incorporate and cook for a minute until thickened.
- Remove the carrots from the oven and drizzle them with half of the tahini mixture; the carrots will drink it up and almost absorb it. Transfer the carrots to a serving platter, drizzle with the remaining tahini mixture, season with additional red pepper flakes and salt, if desired, and serve.