What Is Tahini Sauce?

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Traditional humus with pita.
Traditional humus with pita. (Image: keko64/iStock/Getty Images)

Tahini sauce can be difficult to find outside ethnic grocery stores, but it is surprisingly easy to make at home. Although the sauce features most heavily as a dressing or dip in Middle Eastern cuisine, its intense, warm flavors pair well with a variety of dishes.

Sauce Making

Tahini sauce is a thinner version of tahini paste, a smooth nut butter made by blending sesame seeds and oil. Natural, unhulled sesame seeds give a more intense flavor, but the most commonly found brands use a clear, light tahini paste that calls for hulled sesame seeds. To make tahini sauce, blend a couple of cloves of raw garlic, kosher salt, several tablespoons of lemon juice and tahini paste, adding water until the sauce has the consistency of yogurt. With so few ingredients, the importance of using fresh garlic and natural lemon juice is paramount. For a more robust dressing, add cilantro, cumin and parsley for a distinctively Mediterranean aroma.

Common Uses

Tahini sauce is ubiquitous in Middle Eastern cuisine. Whereas tahini paste is stirred into dishes, the lighter sauce is kept at hand ready for use, either to drizzle on roasted vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower, or as a dressing for kebabs or falafel. Tahani sauce’s smooth, creamy flavor and texture are also capable of countering spicy lamb’s stronger flavors. As a dipping sauce, tahini invigorates foods that might otherwise be overlooked; consider Swiss chard stalks and tahini sauce, perfect for scooping with pita bread. In Turkish cuisine, tahini sauce is a simple dressing for tomatoes or green salad.

Safe Storage

Tahini sauce will keep for up to five days in the refrigerator. Because it contains a lot of oil, both from the olive oil and the seeds themselves, the sauce has to be kept refrigerated to prevent the fats from turning rancid. If making tahini sauce, allow the paste to reach room temperature first, however, to make it easier to manage. To allow the flavors to infuse thoroughly, particularly if incorporating spices, tahini sauce can be prepared a day in advance and refrigerated overnight. Tahini sauce can withstand freezing without sacrificing flavor, but bear in mind that the sauce will expand marginally in the jar. Alternatively, pour it into an ice cube tray, sealed in a zip-top bag to lock out any neighboring aromas, and defrost as necessary.

Alternative Ideas

Add Greek yogurt to tahini sauce for a rich, creamy dressing to complement strong-flavored fish such as salmon or tuna. For an Asian-inspired sauce, honey, ginger and a dash of soy sauce give sweetness and heat, delicious over steamed vegetables. Likewise, combining tahini with a miso paste serves as a more voluptuous variation on a simple salad dressing, exploiting the miso’s saltiness to temper the lemon’s zest and the sesame’s sweet smokiness.

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