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Recipes: Tahini gives these savory dishes a Middle Eastern flair

Tahini takes a casserole and butternut squash dip to delicious new places.

Sesame paste, a.k.a. tahini, is a staple in the Middle East, while here it’s mostly been relegated to flavoring hummus and baba ghanoush. Not anymore! Tahini’s star is rising in American kitchens, where it shows up in a greater range of dishes than ever before.

Here are two savory examples: an easy casserole called siniyah that’s like a Middle Eastern take on shepherd’s pie and a tahini and spice-spiked butternut squash dip. Plus a recipe for an all-purpose tahini sauce.

LAMB SINIYAH

Serves 6

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The spice mixture in this dish is called baharat. You’ll end up with about twice as much as you need for the recipe; keep the extra in an airtight container and use it within a couple of months. Many of the recipes I saw online were inspired by one in Food From the Middle East, a book from Honey & Co., a Middle Eastern restaurant and caterer in London.

Baharat spice mixture

2        teaspoons ground cumin

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2        teaspoons ground coriander

1½    teaspoons ground black pepper

1½    teaspoons ground cinnamon

AP

TIP: Tahini sauce dresses up all kinds of simply prepared foods, including fish (fried, grilled, sauteed), roasted vegetables (including mushrooms, beets, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, sweet potatoes, winter squash), fresh vegetables (such as sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, carrots, celery, radishes), eggs (baked, hard-cooked, soft-cooked, fried), warm chickpeas or lentils and brown rice, and, of course, falafel.

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1         teaspoon ground allspice

¾      teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

½      teaspoon ground cloves

½      teaspoon ground fennel seed

½      teaspoon ground turmeric

¼      teaspoon ground cardamom

Pinch cayenne

 

Filling

1         medium head cauliflower

           (about 2 pounds), trimmed and cut into 1-inch florets (about 6 cups)

1½    tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for casserole dish

Salt and ground black pepper

1         large onion, chopped

1         pound ground lamb

1         tablespoon pressed or grated garlic (about 5 medium cloves)

1         tablespoon tomato paste

2        tablespoons Baharat Spice Mixture

1         teaspoon ground fennel seed

1         can (14.5 ounces) petite-diced tomatoes, drained

 

Topping

2        large eggs, beaten

¾      cup tahini

¾      cup plain Greek yogurt

1         tablespoon pressed or grated garlic (about 5 medium cloves)

1         tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Salt and ground black pepper

1½    tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2/3      cup pine nuts, lightly toasted and cooled

In a small bowl, mix the baharat ingredients to blend and set aside.

With the rack in the upper-middle position, heat the oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower with 1 tablespoon oil to coat. Add ¼ teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste, and toss to distribute. On a large (roughly 18-by-13-inch) rimmed baking sheet, spread the cauliflower florets in a single layer with cut sides down and roast, undisturbed, until the cauliflower is browned on the bottom and tender but not too soft, about 20 minutes. Scrape into a bowl and set aside (leave the oven on).

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the remaining oil and heat until shimmering. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the lamb and cook, stirring and breaking up clumps, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes longer. Off heat, tilt the skillet and, using a spoon or wad of paper towel held in tongs, remove all but about 1 tablespoon of the rendered fat. Return the skillet to medium-high heat, add the garlic and tomato paste, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute longer. Add the baharat and ground fennel seed and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute longer. Add the tomatoes, cooked cauliflower, and ¾ teaspoon salt and stir to combine well. Adjust seasoning with salt, if necessary. Oil a medium (2-quart), shallow, broiler-safe casserole dish, scrape the filling mixture into it, spread evenly, and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, tahini, yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, ½ teaspoon salt, and black pepper to taste until uniform. Spread the tahini mixture evenly over the filling, place the dish on a baking sheet, and bake until filling is heated through and the topping is set, about 20 minutes, rotating the dish halfway through. Turn on the broiler and cook until top is spotty brown, about 1½ minutes. Rest for about 5 minutes, sprinkle with the parsley and about 1 tablespoon of the pine nuts, and serve at once, passing the remaining pine nuts separately.

SPICED BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND TAHINI SPREAD

Makes about 3 cups

This rich spread/dip is adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. They advise keeping the mixture coarse, but I prefer it smoother. The texture is very easy to customize by pulsing more or less in the food processor. Speaking of texture, it benefits from using standard-issue yogurt, rather than thick Greek style.

1         pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 3 cups)

3        tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

2/3      cup plain yogurt (not Greek)

3        tablespoons tahini

2        tablespoons pure maple syrup (preferably dark and robust)

1         teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1½    teaspoons pressed or grated garlic (about 3 medium cloves)

½      teaspoon ground cardamom

½      teaspoon ground allspice

¼      cup minced shallot (about 1 medium)

1/3       cup chopped fresh parsley

With the rack in the middle position, heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. In a medium bowl, toss the squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil to coat. Add ¼ teaspoon of salt and pepper to taste, and toss to distribute. Spread the squash in a single layer on the sheet and roast until tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Chop 5 or 6 squash cubes into neat smaller pieces and reserve for garnish.

Add the squash (except the pieces for garnish), remaining olive oil, yogurt, tahini, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, lemon juice, garlic, cardamom, allspice, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste to a food processor and pulse to puree to the desired texture, stopping to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a spatula as necessary. Scrape the mixture into a bowl, add the shallot and most of the parsley, and stir to blend well. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary.

Scrape the mixture into a shallow serving bowl. Drizzle with the remaining maple syrup, sprinkle with the remaining parsley and reserved chopped squash, and serve with pita or cut vegetables for dipping.

EASY, ALL-PURPOSE TAHINI SAUCE

Makes about 1 cup

Tahini and water have a curious relationship. Add just a little water, say 2 tablespoons, and the tahini thickens to a stiff texture, like that of whipped cream cheese. Voila  . . .  tahini dip! If you add more water, like the 6 tablespoons in this recipe, it thins out to a heavy sauce consistency that I like. Even more water will make it thinner and pourable. Tahini sauce takes well to simple additions such as extra lemon juice, ½ teaspoon of cumin, sumac, or smoked paprika, or ½ cup of very finely minced parsley.

½ cup tahini

1½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon pressed or grated garlic (about 1 large clove)

Salt and pepper

In a medium bowl, whisk the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, and ¼ cup water until uniform. Add 2 more tablespoons of water, 1 at a time, whisking until uniform after each. Adjust seasoning with salt and consistency with more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if necessary. Serve or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 4 days (it will thicken in the fridge; before serving, return it to room temperature and adjust the consistency with water if necessary).

Adam Ried appears regularly on “America’s Test Kitchen.’’ Send comments to cooking@globe.com.
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