I want to talk a little bit today about one of my all time favorite sauces. Although I think tahina falls in the “sauce” category, the simple definition doesn’t give it justice. Tahina is an event; the leading actor or even supporting actor to some of the most delicious Middle Eastern Foods. It may be devilishly simple but its decadent, rich and flavorful, transporting your taste buds to an Israeli oasis adorned with Mediterranean white sand beaches, the smell of roasted eggplant wafting through the warm desert air.
Tahina is simple: Just a perfect marriage between the humble sesame seed, water, garlic and lemon. I know what you are thinking, this is very similar to hummus. Yes, this is true but there are no chickpeas to be found, no blender, no olive oil swirl on top. While good hummus is as we all know, one of the best things on this planet, I would make an argument that tahina is even better. Its the lifeblood of a culture; a staple; something my friend Dan said he would drink right out of the bowl before he went to school when he was a kid. Have no shame Dan, I would do it too!
It’s a truly no-frills item, something that stands up on its own. I originally got introduced to my new favorite topping on my first trip to Israel. It was the perfect introduction to the cuisine, something different yet oddly familiar. Coming from a Turkish background, the flavors of Israel where all in my wheelhouse, yet each dish was uniquely Israeli.
When I think about Middle Eastern food on a greater scale only one word comes to mind. Simplicity.
The entire style of cuisine is based on respect for ingredients, letting the food truly talk for itself. Fresh baked bread, chicken stewed down over long hours, lasciviously spiced rice, a squeeze of fresh lemon. Eating this type of food is a sensory experience as varied and colorful as the tapestries and rugs in neighboring shops. The crackling sound of Borek fresh from the oven, the smell of grilled meat filling the room, a colorful array of delightfully plated bites. The cuisine embodies simplicity to its roots, a food culture that values time at the table, the delicious moments of life.
There is something sentimental about the whole cuisine for me, like a part of me was just born to have a connection with it. It could have been the Turkish food of my childhood, the family Kofte nights, but it feels like a deeper connection. It could be interpreted as a psuedo-Zionist longing or maybe the fact that I am just really into good olive oil and freshly baked bread. Either way, its hard to go wrong eating anything from that region of world!
Quick Tahina Recipe
- Tahini (Sesame Seed Paste)
- Crushed Garlic
- Parsley (for color)
- In a bowl combine equal parts tahini and water until you get a smooth consistency. This may take some time depending on how well mixed your tahini is.
- Next add in lemon, crushed garlic and salt to taste.
- If you are feeling like stepping up your game a little bit, add some minced parsley to turn that tan paste into a multicolored masterpiece
- Slather your new favorite food topper on anything in sight!