Simple Tahini Sauce Recipe

Ever since I received an electric steamer for my birthday last summer, I have been steaming vegetables with abandon.

Before that, I used a set of those bamboo baskets that you nest in a wok if you have one (I don’t) or place on a saucepan that’s never quite the correct size for optimal steam circulation. That thing sputtered and leaked and drove me a little crazier every time I used it, so this new appliance was a considerable upgrade. It is also beautiful and roomy and easy to clean, and I am pleased as punch with it.

The flavor of this sauce is rich but bright, and its subtle nuttiness enhances the other elements on the plate like magic.

So I have been steaming a lot of vegetables lately, often with a stalk of rosemary and a clove of garlic in their midst, and I have therefore been facing the only challenge that this cooking method entails: finding worthy dressings to bolster the vegetables’ flavor.

A drizzle of good olive oil, a quick yogurt sauce with a squirt of lemon, a thin coating of pesto — these are all lovely ways to do just that, but my current favorite is this: a simple tahini sauce with a few herbs thrown in.

Most of you are probably familiar with tahini (or tahina), a paste made of sesame seeds, hulled and ground. It is a ubiquitous ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisines, including those of Lebanon and Israel, and it is particularly well known as a key component of hummus or halva.

It can also be thinned into a quick and easy sauce that is traditionally served with falafel, fish, or meat, and goes superbly well with steamed vegetables.

The flavor of this sauce is rich but bright, and I find its subtle nuttiness enhances the other elements on the plate like magic. I’m especially fond of the effect it has on carrots, broccoli, and winter squash.

I like to prepare a batch of it and keep it on hand, drizzling it on whatever I happen to be making or serving over the next few days. I sometimes skip the lemon juice (if I don’t have any) and the garlic (if I can’t be bothered to peel and crush it) but I seldom do without the herbs.

Tahini can be found at Middle Eastern markets and natural food stores; all tahinis are not created equal, though, so it may be worth trying different brands until you find the one you like best. In Janna Gur’s gorgeous Book of New Israeli Food (previously mentioned here), she recommends “tast[ing] it straight from the jar. It should be nutty and slightly sweet, without a trace of bitterness.” And don’t be tempted, as I once was, to get “whole” sesame paste made from unhulled seeds: it is more nutritious, no doubt, but also significantly more bitter.

Would you like to share your favorite way of dressing steamed vegetables, or your favorite uses of tahini?

Simple Tahini Sauce Recipe

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 5 minutes

Makes about 120 ml (1/2 cup) sauce (see note).

Simple Tahini Sauce Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) good-quality raw tahini (a paste made of ground hulled sesame; I buy Jean Hervé's, which is organic and stone-ground)
  • about 2 tablespoons fresh herbs: a small bunch of chives, snipped, or a handful of cilantro, parsley and/or mint leaves, chopped
  • a few drops of lemon juice (optional)
  • 1/2 garlic clove, very finely crushed (optional)
  • salt, pepper

Instructions

  1. Spoon the tahini into a bowl. Add the herbs, the lemon juice and garlic if using, and some salt and pepper. Add a drop of cold water and stir it in with the spoon. When it is mostly incorporated, add a drop more water and repeat. It is important to thin the tahini little by little, or it may curdle and be difficult to fix.
  2. As you add in the water, you will notice a change in the consistency and color of the mixture -- from grainy to smooth, and from beige to a lighter, off-white shade. Add enough water to get the consistency you're looking for, from thick/creamy for a dip to thin/milky for a sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  3. Serve with vegetables (particularly carrots, broccoli, green beans, eggplant, winter squash, cucumbers); as a dressing for salads; over chickpea patties, chicken, lamb, fish; in pita sandwiches, etc.

Notes

  • The recipe will yield a little more or a little less depending on the desired thickness. You can scale the recipe up or down depending on your needs.
  • Any leftovers will keep for a few days, tightly covered and refrigerated.

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  • http://bewitchingkitchen.wordpress.com SallyBR

    I think my favorite way to deal with steamed veggies is using a yogurt-based dressing.

    I love a recipe from Mediterranean Fresh, that is just yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, fresh mint, and a little cayenne pepper.

    I would be interested in knowing what kind of electric steamer you have.

  • Uma

    Clotilde, this sounds yummy! Could you share the brand of electric steamer that you got? Have you seen any good ones in the US?

  • myrna

    This tahini sauce you describe so well, is called Tarator in lebanon, and it would be a crime if you skip to taste it with a simply grilled fish. yummy!

  • http://www.howsweeteats.com Jessica @ How Sweet It Is

    This dressing may actually make me WANT to eat veggies. Which is highgly unusual.

  • http://plumparings.blogspot.com ritu

    I love simple tahini sauces/dressings. Another tahini-based treat: miso-tahini spread, made with sweet white miso and a bit of warm water to thin it out. So good on some whole grain bread. For steamed veggies, a favorite is miso-almond sauce (based on a Mollie Katzen recipe), for which I use a darker miso and almond butter and hot water. And of course, a drizzle of good olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt is always good on steamed vegetables.

  • http://www.palatetopen.com Jennifer

    This is a fine recipe. I souse steamy potato chunks with tahini and a few grinds of salt and pepper. A sprinkle of ripe cheese doesn’t hurt as well.

  • piccola

    Before I went veg, it was bagna cauda, that Italian oil-and-anchovy dip. Now, I have a few on rotation, depending on my mood: spicy peanut sauce, ponsu, buttermilk Green Goddess dressing…

  • farmersdaughter

    I roast potatoes, blanch kale or chard, toss the two vegetables together, keep them warm and toss with tahini dressing. It’s a great combination. Roasted garlic and parmesan cheese can be added if you wish.

  • Barbara

    I like tahini- use it in several dishes. But I never thought to thin it out and use it as a dipping sauce! Super idea, Clotilde.

  • http://www.simplycooked.blogspot.com sarah

    Haha, Jessica! Everything in life makes me want to eat vegetables. They are so tasty! This sauce seems delicious and sounds as though it would turn many more to the delights of steamed vegetables. Thanks. :)

  • Giorgia

    I like to make a Tahina sauce with a tablespoon of tahina, a couple of tablespoons of natural yogurt, salt, a pinch of dried chili and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

    It is great also in the sweet version: a slice of toasted bread with a thin layer of malt (or honey) and another one of tahina!

  • http://teajewel.wordpress.com candice

    Whoa, I want an electric steamer too. I have the same problem with the steamer never fitting… it doesn’t make me want to steam anything (fortunately, though, roasted veggies taste amazing too).

    The tahini I recently bought is bitter. :( I wonder if the recipe will still taste good, though? I’ll have to try it out. Thanks!

  • illuminata

    I like tahini sauce made with ground roasted cumin, garlic and lemon (I use a pestle & mortar to make a paste of garlic & salt before adding the lemon juice and then tahini to the mortar). Excellent with lamb cutlets and spinach/purple sprouting broccoli!

  • http://www.aspiringvegan.com Aspiring Vegan

    A lovely idea for steamed veg. I make a very similar sauce to go with felafel, only with more lemon juice and garlic.

    Jean Hervé’s “demi-complet” tahini is great, though I do wonder why there doesn’t seem to be a “complet” version.

  • http://lacaffettierarosa.wordpress.com caffettiera

    I love tahini sauce on vegetables as well. My favourite one of vegetables is thinned as you did, basically, while for meat I prefer to add a little yogurt. I stole the idea from Ottolenghi – they often serve baked vegetables with thin tahini sauce and some baby spinach or other small salad. Perfect lunch for me!

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Thanks for the great ideas, everyone, keep them coming!

    To those who have asked what electric steamer I have, it is this one, made by Magimix. I don’t know if it’s available in other countries besides France.

    Candice – I’ve noticed that bitter tahini grows a little less bitter when you thin it, so this should be a good use for the jar you have. Just be sure to use the sauce on vegetables that are on the sweet side, to balance out the remaining hint of bitterness.

    Aspiring Vegan – I find Jean Hervé’s “semi-complet” sesame butter to be too bitter for my taste buds. I bought it once and ended up giving it away to my neighbor, who didn’t mind the bitterness. :)

  • M’leen

    That! makes steamed vegetables a lot more interesting. Funny, I’ve never really thought about it, just used the steamer (microwave) for potato’s and babyfood.
    I do have a very simple favorite which we like to eat with blanched vegetables: mix yoghurt with oregano, garlic, salt and some roasted sesame seeds. A variation on Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe for za’atar (thyme, sumac, roasted sesame seeds)when I ran out of sumac…:-)

  • http://www.wwcollegegirl.com Bethany

    I need a steamer bad!

  • http://www.mostlyeating.com Sophie

    This is a really good idea! I usually go for a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon over my steamed veggies but something a little bit creamier would be very welcome. Tahini also thins nicely with low fat yogurt.

  • http://none Courtney

    Hello Clotilde,

    A fabulous dressing for steamed veggies is Melted butter or ( soft margarine), Tahini, similar to soy sauce with less salt, and a product called Veg-It, from Gaylord Hauser. Assemble these 3 ahead of time and toss as soon as the veggies are drained. Fantastic flavor. Play with proportions as you like. Also great on angel hair pasta. Enjoy
    Courtney U.S.A.

  • http://slowfoodfast.wordpress.com DebbieN

    I mix tehina with about 2-3 times as much plain nonfat yogurt to make a thick tangy dip for toasted pita or raw vegetables. It tastes rich without all the oil, and tangy enough without having to scrounge for a lemon (but I still like garlic when I can get it). Depending how much they charge for a jar of tehina where you live, it can also save your wallet, especially if you need to make enough for a party. If you have za’atar (wild thyme/sesame/purple sumac powder), sprinkle a pinch or so over the bowl and drizzle some olive oil and you’re in business. If not, a combination of cumin, ground caraway (smaller pinch of this–a little goes a long way), maybe some oregano and some hot paprika.

  • http://www.remedialeating.com molly

    Oh, this on steamed broccoli sounds divine! For my money, it’s hard to beat brown butter (maybe with a squeeze of lemon) on almost anything.

  • Jane

    Clotilde, this is really not Israeli food. This is Arab food. Have you never eaten Lebanese food?

  • http://www.french-alps-tours.com Cynthia in the French Alps

    I have a very difficult time finding tahini in Chambery, but I have a hard time finding lots of things in Chambery. Occasionally, I can find it at the local Lebonese store but it’s hit and miss. Thanks for the insider info on using tahini. Cynthia in the French Alps

  • taikoos

    Oooooh, nummy ~ I tried it on steamed broccoli and it was fabulous. I will be keeping the ingredients close at hand, because it’s just the perfect party dress for plain vegetables:)

  • http://www.whatareyoufeedingyourkidsthesedays.com Gaelle@whatareyoufeedingyourkidsthesedays.com

    I love Tahini but generally don’t have many recipes to use it with. Thanks for sharing this nice sauce.
    I use Tahini together with rice vinegar and fresh cilantro to season Coleslaw. It’s really good, healthier than the regular mayo-mustard dressing and best, my children like it too!

  • Scarlet

    As an Israeli (and therefore born tahina-snob, sorry ;p), I use the paste on anything and everything.
    We keep it simple, mixing it with garlic (crushed, not chopped to maximise flavour), a pinch of salt, lemon juice and water to thin it. No herbs, no cumin, no yogurt!
    I have 2 favourite edible carriers for my tahina; dripping, sunny-side up eggs served with good bread and a green salad (has to be tasted to be believed!), or anything beetroot. I regularly make a salad of raw beets, carrots and cashews to have with my favourite dip, and pickled or roasted beets also go well. I also make cheat’s halva, as I like to call it by mixing warmed up raw tahina with honey, chopped nuts, melted chocolate or whatever I have lying around. Leave in the fridge until solid and flaky.

  • Dana

    This tahine sauce, known as Tarator in Lebanese cuisine, does wonders to baked fish.

    There is a very famous Lebanese fish dish called Tajen where you place a fillet of sea bass or other firm fish on a bed of caramelized onion. Slather with Tahine sauce and bake in oven till fish is flaky and sauce has thickened into a bachamel-like consistency. Garnish with toasted pine nuts, minced parsley, and a sliver of lemon. Yummy!

  • Justine

    A yummy topping I make for steamed veg is walnuts ground up in a mortar and pestle with lots of sea salt, garlic and lemon zest. The walnuts go all creamy and paste-like. Or a Japanese variation on tahini, just using whole sesame seeds, from Jill Dupleix’s “Old Food”: toasted sesame seeds, sugar, soy sauce and dashi broth (or just water or chinese rice wine/mirin works too) mixed to a paste. Or tzatziki with loads of garlic. Or gremolata. Or beetroot yoghurt sauce. Or fried breadcrumbs, garlic and currants. Just a few faves!

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    All – What wonderful ideas on using tahini and dressing steamed vegetables — very inspiring, thank you for sharing!

  • Gwen

    To Cynthia in the French Alps: I just moved from Chambéry to the US ! Too bad I missed you. You should find tahini and some other “exotic” foods easily at the bio food stores, such as Casa Bio or Satoriz (or Botanic). There is also an exotic food store tucked away in a back alley near the train station (I think it’s called Dalya, and it shows on the Google maps of the station neighborhood). I used to go there for keffir lime leaves. But yes, it is much harder to find asian ingredients than in the US. On the other hand, the farmers markets are just unbeatable in Savoie, especially for dairy :-p
    To Clotilde: I would try adding some dried shredded seaweed (and maybe no salt) and pair it with blander vegetables such as potatoes. For a while, there was a brand of seaweed salted butter available in stores, but I think it didn’t meet much success and was discontinued. This thing on pommes de terre en robe des champs was terrific though, and I have observed several times already that sesame and seaweed are good friends.

  • Lisa

    Try stirring a few tablespoons of tahini into jarred tomato pasta sauce – makes it lovely and creamy!

  • Erica

    I love to toss steamed veggies with a vinaigrette. Sometimes I throw dried herbs in there too for an Italian Vinaigrette feel. A squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper works wonders too. I also like to throw in some sesame seeds or almonds and chop an apple or throw in some sundried tomatoes and pine nuts. Yummy!

  • http://annesbento.wordpress.com Anne

    This looks lovely :) I recently bought a microwave steaming basket which I use all the time. Just yesterday I actually made a tahini sauce to eat over steamed broccoli and brown rice for a quick lunch If you are a.

    I never seem to have lemons or lemon juice around the house lately, so I had to think of something else. I ended up mixing the tahini with white miso, orange juice, a touch of soy sauce and some japanese seven spice (shishimi togarachi, the kind with yuzu peel). It was very tasty and citrusy.

  • jfox

    Many questions about steamer. I want to brag about mine – you can have all the other things in my kitchen but the steamer NOT! I use it all the time. Now the bad part – it is a beast. This thing is a commercial model by EmberGlo. The steaming portion is a half size steam table pan with holes around the side. These things retail for around 1200 USD. I found mine on eBay for a steal of a price and it is the best most enjoyable most useful thing in my kitchen. As I said it is a beast, takes up a lot of counter space and is a commitment to deal with. I do rice, veggies, breads, fish, shellfish, …. It is magic with stale breads and sticky rice is a constantly on the menu. Just rinse rice in a bowl, add water and whatever and drop the bowl in the steamer and forget about it. That is forget about it until the buzzer goes off – it will wake the dead! Anyway, look it up.

  • http://www.twitter.com/merouaneben Merouane

    My favourite (and only until I read your mouthwatering article) way to use tahini is in this chinese recipe ‘Banbanji’ : cook some chicken breasts in boiling water (or chicken broth), containing approximately 20g of leek and 10g of ginger (for 160g of chicken). And for the sauce: 30g of leek, 8g of ginger, 4tbs of tahini, 2tbs of rice vinegar, 2tbs of soya sauce, 2tbs of sugar and 2tbs of sesame oil (you can add 1tb of rayu – spicy sesame oil) – just mix everything together, add 2tbs of the chicken broth. Ready ! Use it to accompany the sliced chicken and sliced cucumber. I love this recipe ^_^

  • http://www.chocolatecoveredeverything.wordpress.com chocolatecoveredeverything

    Tahini is So good in hummus, but I also love it on Broccoli and Cauliflower! There is a Roasted Tahini and Cauliflower salad at my local Co op that is fantastic! It is served cold, but would be good warmed up too!

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