It's Tuesday afternoon. It's over 50 degrees in New York (Fahrenheit, of course). I've just come inside from a run in Prospect Park. Life is good. So before I get stuck into the task of gmail spring cleaning, I'd like to share one of the most simple and wholesome discoveries that I've made in 2016: tahini.
I've been leading my life as much offline as on these days (should that be surprising for anyone?) and my growing cookbook collection is half electronic and half paper. I've been especially collecting Middle Eastern cookbooks, and one hefty one--oversized pages spread before me right now--is Zahav, a testament to the global influences on the very particular cuisine of Israel. Before I started all this reading, I didn’t know much about tahini or the difference between (how could you, with this nomenclature?) “tahini” as in the jarred sesame paste and “tahini” as in the simple sauce prepared from the paste. (To complicate further, the Israeli word, apparently, is “tahina.”)
After playing around with Zahav, I learned to make the most wonderful, creamy, umami-ish (author Michael Solomonov points out that you need this when you don’t have dairy in kosher food) sauce. Start with one cup of tahini paste (I followed Solomonov's advice and ordered mine from Soom in Philadelphia). You're also going to need two lemons, juiced, a head of garlic, salt, cumin, and ice water. The trick is, Solomonov explains, to let the raw garlic mellow out in the lemon juice. Take five big fat garlic cloves (or several more small ones) and dump them, unpeeled, into a blender with maybe half or two thirds of the lemon juice. Blitz. Leave to sit for 10 minutes and then strain, pushing against the pureed garlic to get as much juice out as possible, into a bowl with the tahini and whisk in up to another cup of ice water (you want really chilled water here, not actual ice cubes). The mixture might seize up and get firm and clumpy along the way (anyone who works with chocolate a lot has seen this), but more water will take care of it. Add half a teaspoon each of cumin and salt. Taste and adjust the flavor by adding more cumin, more salt, maybe more lemon. The whole thing is so simple and wonderful.
Now you can use the sauce for anything. Most obviously, it's the other half of hummus, but I've found the prepared tahini to be so creamy and delicious on its own that I haven't had much need for the chickpeas. For a quick but still leisurely lunch, toast a thick slice of multigrain bread while you poach an egg (you need a shallow pan of simmering water, a splash of flavorful and acidic wine vinegar, and a nice egg cracked and ready to go in something like a measuring cup or a gravy boat: add the vinegar to the water, which will bind the egg white and add some flavor, then quickly drop in the egg, keep the water simmering but not boiling for three minutes, which is all I think you need, and then lift the egg with a set white and perfectly runny yolk out of the water). Butter the bread, top it with the egg, generously drizzle the tahini over the top, and dust the whole thing with some smoky Spanish paprika. Delicious.
And with the leftover (unprepared) tahini paste, I've been following Molly Yeh's recipe for chocolate-chip tahini cookies. Molding and freezing the cookies to relax the gluten--and to save individual cookies for when you need them--is up there with the best baking advice I've ever gotten.