Tahini salad: fresh, delicious and fairly virtuous
Jessica Webster | AnnArbor.com
It happens so frequently that now, when I walk in the door, I am often greeted by name by the cooks and wait staff.
"Hi Jessica! What's for lunch today? Tahini salad?"
Yep. I'm a fool for Jerusalem Garden's tahini salad. I vary the rest of my order at the restaurant regularly, but the tahini salad remains a constant. Cucumber, red onion, parsley and tomato in a creamy tahini sauce make the perfect foil for, well, for just about everything else on the menu.
Prior to my discovery of tahini salad (also known as salata tahini), I only knew tahini to be an integral part of any hummus recipe. It seemed impossible to me that the thick paste made from ground sesame seeds could possibly turn into the smooth, creamy dressing in Jerusalem Garden’s tahini salad. I convinced myself that there must be yogurt in there somewhere.
I was so obsessed with this dish and the tahini’s magical properties that I decided to see if I could imitate it at home. Lo and behold, tahini can become smooth and creamy when mixed with water and lemon juice (though it does take quite a bit of stirring to accomplish the feat). And with a little bit of fiddling and adjusting of flavors, I came pretty darned close to imitating my beloved Jerusalem Garden tahini salad.
Most recipes for tahini salad that I found online do not include red onion, but it’s an integral part of Jerusalem Garden’s variation on the dish, so I elected to include it here. I found that rinsing and draining the onions after they are cut resolves most of the issues with pungency.
My first batch had a disappointing aftertaste, which I traced back to the tahini. I asked Jerusalem Garden owner Ali Ramlawi how he avoids that, and he explained that it’s all about getting the freshest tahini available. He goes through so much of the stuff, he’s able to buy it from a supplier in huge, super-fresh containers that aren’t available to home cooks.
“Most tahini in stores is going to have that weird taste. Even if the expiration date is way off in the future, it’s rarely that fresh.”
Off I went to try a broad selection of tahini brands available in grocery stores. Your experiences may differ, but I got the best flavor and the least amount of aftertaste from the Whole Foods 365 organic tahini.
Tahini Salad (adapted from a recipe from Food.com)
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped or diced
2 large cucumbers, seeded and chopped or diced
2 small red onions (or 1 medium), diced
1 garlic clove (minced)
1 cup tahini
the juice of 1 to 3 lemons
1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1 cup chopped curly parsley (washed and with large stems removed)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dice the red onion and place in a colander. Rinse under running water for a minute, then drain completely. Dice up tomatoes and cucumbers and combine them with the red onion in a medium bowl.
Place minced garlic and salt in a mortar and smash until it’s a paste.
Start the tahini dressing by mixing the tahini with 1 1/2 cups water in a separate medium-large bowl. It will seem, at first, that they won’t blend, but be diligent. After a couple of minutes of stirring, it will combine nicely and result in a lovely creamy texture.
Add lemon juice in increments to achieve desired tartness. I used 2 1/2 lemons for my taste.
Add the garlic and salt mixture and stir well.
Combine the vegetables and dressing, then add the chopped mint and parsley. Stir well, then taste for flavor. Add more parsley, lemon or salt as needed.
Cover and set in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.
Serve as a side to roasted meat, with pita bread, in a falafel, as an appetizer, or over romaine leaves as a salad.