Updated: Aug 25, 2020
Tahini (sesame seed paste) is a nutritious protein powerhouse, and an excellent base for lots of delicious Middle Eastern dishes. It’s mainly used in savory dishes, with hummus of course being the first thing that comes to mind, or the smoky eggplant side dish, mutabal. Tahini also takes center stage as the 'key note' in Palestinian dishes like, kofta bil tahini (meatballs in tahini sauce) and lifet bil tahini (turnip stuffed with aromatic ground beef/rice in a tahini sauce), just to name a few.
Tahini has not had a significant presence in Middle Eastern sweet dishes beyond the beloved halawa (the equivalent of sesame seed paste fudge) which is eaten as is, or with some warm Arabic bread. A personal old-school Palestinian favorite sweet of mine is eating tahini paste swirled with some syrupy natural date or grape molasses – it’s my go-to when I want something sweet but nutritious. That simple combo is the Middle Eastern equivalent, and healthier alternative, to PB and jam.
My children’s all-time favorite dessert is homemade basbousa (glorious picture of my basbousa on my instagram @thegoodtastelama), which is a pillowy soft and juicy semolina flour cake that is doused in flower water infused syrup. My mother's basbousa recipe calls for a generous layer of good tahini to be spread on the bottom of the cake pan. The semolina batter is poured on top of the tahini, and when it's done baking, you get a subtle hint of sticky sweet tahini with each bite of basbousa. The tahini cuts very nicely through the basbousa’s syrupy sweetness.
The taste of tahini is pretty mild in this Tahini Sesame Seed Cookie recipe (adapted from Bon Appetit with a reduced amount of sugar, fat, and the addition of nigella seeds). These cookies are more sophisticated (taste-wise) than peanut butter cookies, and the addition of the nigella seeds (izha) gives them a more pronounced nuttiness. I would suggest maybe baking half of them the toasted sesame seeds on top and the other half with a mix of sesame and nigella seeds to see which you like more. Once baked, try dunking the warm cookies in cold milk! Delicious!
Tahini Sesame Cookies Recipe
Prep Level: Easy
Yields about 10 cookies
1 cup all purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, unsalted room temperature
4 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons tahini
¼ cup toasted sesame seeds (or 2 tablespoons nigella seeds and 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds)
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. In a small bowl, place the flour, baking powder and salt. In a medium bowl, add the following ingredients: butter, sugar, honey, tahini, and vanilla. Beat on medium/high speed until well incorporated, about 3 minutes. Gradually beat (add) the dry mixture to the wet mixture till combined. The mixture will be slightly crumbly and sticky. Place the sesame (and nigella seeds if using them) in a separate bowl and scoop out about 1 oz of dough (smaller than a golf ball) and roll tightly. Dip and gently press/flatten the dough balls into the sesame seeds to form round flat (about 1 ½ inches in diameter) cookies. You will probably have to smooth, and round out, the sides of the cookies with your hands. Place the cookies (sesame seed side facing up) on a parchment-lined baking sheet, slightly spaced apart, and bake until golden brown, or for about 13-15 minutes. They’ll be crumbly but slightly chewy. Best eaten when warm!