Our 7 Favorite Ways to Use Tahini
What is tahini? Learn more about this underutilized ingredient, plus get our best recipes with tahini, other ideas for using it, and our favorite substitute for tahini when you’re all out.
Tahini: It’s rich and nutty, but without the sweetness of most nut butters. It’s creamy. It’s healthy. And it’s absolutely delicious.
But outside the Middle East and Mediterranean regions, many people aren’t all that familiar with this powerhouse ingredient. You’ve probably had it in hummus or baba ganoush, or maybe as a tahini sauce served over falafel. Otherwise, though, you may not have used or eaten it. Tahini is just not that common in Western cuisine.
Maybe it’s time for that to change. Because as it turns out, tahini is a surprisingly versatile ingredient. Here we’ll share some of our favorite ways to use tahini, and even a few recipes with tahini to get you started. Don’t let this fantastic ingredient languish in your cupboard another day!
First, though, let’s talk more about the ingredient itself.
What is tahini?
Tahini is a smooth paste of ground sesame seeds mixed with oil. It’s often the consistency of peanut butter or a little thinner, and can be used in similar ways. It’s decidedly savory, with hints of bitterness that can help balance out other flavors in a dish.
Tahini is high in fiber and protein, as well as essential nutrients such as copper, selenium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. It’s been shown to improve heart health, reduce inflammation, and may even offer some protective benefits against cancer.
Where is tahini in the grocery store?
In the grocery store, you’re most likely to find tahini in either the international foods aisle or the condiments aisle, near other seed and nut butters. Sometimes it’s found in a gourmet/specialty aisle near nice oils, olives, and dips. And of course, it’s always available in Middle Eastern groceries.
How to store tahini?
Tahini is shelf-stable even after it’s been opened, which means you can store it in the cupboard. Storing it in the fridge will extend its shelf life, however, but also make it thicker and sometimes more difficult to mix with other ingredients. Regardless of whether it’s kept in the fridge or not, tahini should be kept in a cool, dry place to preserve the oils for as long as possible.
What’s the best substitute for tahini?
If you don’t have tahini on hand, there’s no need to rush out to buy some in order to make a recipe that uses it — though after reading this article, we hope you’ll want to! In the meantime, however, there are a few substitutes that work well.
Our favorite tahini substitute is sunflower seed butter — or better yet, grind your own sunflower seeds along with sesame seed oil. If you don’t have that on hand, cashew or almond butter work well. In a pinch, you can even sub peanut butter or yogurt for tahini!
Favorite Ideas and Recipes with Tahini
1. Drizzle tahini sauce over a grain bowl
Tahini can be made into a wonderful tahini sauce that can be used to add flavor to bowls of roasted vegetables and grains. Try mixing it with miso, yogurt, garlic, and lemon juice as we do in our Miso-Tahini Couscous Bowl, or make up your own tahini sauce recipe. You can also just drizzle straight tahini over your grain bowl for concentrated tahini flavor that couldn’t be simpler! Tahini complements roasted vegetables so well, and using it in sauce helps to tie together a bowl of disparate ingredients that might otherwise taste like it just needs something more.
2. Use tahini in dips
Hummus is the most well-known use for tahini, but it doesn’t have to end there! Whisk tahini into sour cream and onion dip for some extra flavor, or use it in a white bean dip. You can also blend tahini with roasted vegetables, as in baba ganoush, but no need to stick with eggplant — beets, carrots, and other root veggies make a great dip too. As with grain bowls, you can also dip veggie sticks or pita chips straight into tahini, but we love the balance of flavors when tahini is paired with lemon, garlic, and just a touch of sweetness.
3. Make a tahini salad dressing
Just a little bit of tahini whisked into salad dressing adds a richness that elevates a dressing from side salad status to good enough for a dinner salad. We’re partial to the creamy tahini salad dressing we use in our Fattoush Salad with Pan-Fried Chickpeas, which contains garlic, lemon, tahini, olive oil, and honey. The creaminess of the dressing is a perfect pairing for the crisp pita chips, warm chickpeas, and fresh avocado, tomato, and cucumber; with a different dressing, this meal might feel overly light for dinner, but tahini makes it just substantial enough to really feel like a meal.
4. Use tahini in a marinade
Marinating meat is the best way to ensure a tender, juicy result. The essential elements of a marinade are fat, acid, and additional flavors — and because tahini contains oil, it’s a natural (though not always obvious!) choice for including in marinades. In our Lebanese Chicken Skewers (Shish Tawook), the tahini lemon marinade doubles as a tahini lemon dressing for the cooked skewers, which saves time and creates an extra flavorful result.
5. Sub tahini for nut butters
Tahini makes a fantastic peanut butter, almond butter, or cashew butter substitute. Whether you’re cooking for someone with a peanut allergy, don’t have a nut butter on hand, or just like the flavor of sesame seeds, try using tahini anywhere you’d normally use nut butter. Though the flavor is a bit stronger than most nut butters, tahini can be subbed into sandwiches (TB&J, anyone?), peanut sauce, dressings, nut butter cookies, or anywhere else you’d normally use nut butter.
6. Add flavor to Asian noodle dishes
Chinese recipes often call for sesame paste, which isn’t quite the same as tahini but isn’t all that different either. (Tahini is made from hulled raw sesame seeds, while sesame paste is made of toasted sesame seeds, making it darker and even nuttier. It also tends to be a little thicker than tahini.) But you won’t be surprised to hear that you can easily sub tahini in recipes that traditionally use sesame paste. That’s exactly what we did in our Dan Dan–Style Noodles in order to make the recipe more accessible to home cooks who don’t have access to traditional Chinese ingredients. In this recipe, ramen noodles are flavored with a spicy sauce containing tahini, garlic, brown sugar, chili garlic sauce, and rice vinegar.
7. Use tahini as a vegan or paleo dairy substitute
In our meal plan service, we always include original, gluten-free, paleo, and vegetarian versions of each recipe, and our paleo users get plenty of use out of their jars of tahini! We frequently use tahini in paleo recipes where the original version calls for dairy products, especially yogurt. Some recent examples are our Summer Deli Cobb Salad, where tahini herb dressing replaces creamy herb dressing made with yogurt; Persian Turkey Kofta, where herb tahini dressing replaces herb yogurt dressing; and Rotisserie Chicken Ranch Lettuce Wraps, where the ranch dressing is made with tahini. We also subbed tahini in place of heavy cream in Southwestern Sweet Potato and Zucchini Soup, the paleo version of our Southwestern Corn, Sweet Potato, and White Bean Chowder. When substituting tahini in place of yogurt, use half the amount of tahini as you would yogurt for best results.
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