Tahini is one of those ingredients that we rarely see or taste in its original state, but plays an important supporting role in one of America’s favorite dips/spreads: hummus! A tasty and ubiquitous snack of Middle Eastern origin made with garbanzo beans, lemon juice, spices and tahini, hummus is equally at home on an appetizer tray, in a sandwich, or all by itself with a hunk of bread for one of my favorite easy dinners. Tahini, or sesame seed butter, is rich and creamy. Higher-end hummus often gets its luxurious texture from someone’s heavy hand with the tahini and/or olive oil. While available raw, I prefer the admittedly oxymoronic, nutty flavor of roasted tahini.
Made simply from toasted hulled sesame seeds and sometimes a touch of salt, tahini seems like something that should be easy to make at home with the aid of a food processor. I figured making tahini would be a no-brainer until I tried to do so and ended up with a big blob that looked and felt like beige Play-Doh – even though I let the food processor run until I started to smell its motor overheating. Oops! It certainly wasn’t the thick, pourable ‘butter’ I was after. I thought I was a complete tahini-making failure, but a little research revealed that I’d used un-hulled, rather than the more traditional hulled, sesame seeds. Although the outer shell of a sesame seed is quite thin, it’s substantial enough to inhibit my food processor’s ability to yield creamy sesame seed butter. Fortunately, I tracked down hulled sesame seeds at my local Whole Foods and decided to give homemade tahini another go.
After patiently toasting three batches of sesame seeds in the oven, I added the warm seeds and a touch of salt to the food processor, pressed ‘on’ and waited. And waited. Lo and behold, after only about five minutes and one break to scrape down the sides of the bowl, I had tahini! The kind of tahini that drips off a spoon and just begs to be slathered on bread with a drizzle of honey, thinned with lemon juice and spooned atop vegetables, or, of course, blended into hummus. On top of all this, making your own tahini (or hummus) is far cheaper than buying it at the store. From about $2.00 of organic sesame seeds I produced close to the same quantity of tahini I purchase at Whole Foods for ~$7.00. A final grace note: store your tahini in the fridge and don’t expect it to last forever. Sesame seeds, especially once their oils are released, are prone to early-onset rancidity. With how delicious homemade tahini is, though, I doubt using it up will be a problem!
roasted tahini (sesame seed butter)
3 cups hulled sesame seeds
½ tsp sea salt (optional)
Preheat oven to 275°F. Spread one cup of sesame seeds on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, shaking sheet once or twice, until seeds start to smell nutty and appear slightly oily. You don’t really want them to brown, per se, as then you run the risk of some burning and making your whole batch of tahini smell and taste acrid.
Remove seeds and pour into bowl of food processor. Repeat previous step until all seeds have been toasted and added to the food processor. Add salt.
Process until tahini reaches a creamy consistency. You may have to scrape down the side of the bowl once or twice with a spatula.
Transfer to a jar and store in the fridge. If you refrain from sticking fingers and dirty knives into the tahini, it should last at least a few months.