I was a very picky eater as a child. In this photo, my mother is feeding me while I’m being distracted with a toy, with the help of my brother and my aunt. Bad eating habits are common in younger children, but in my case, and what was completely unacceptable back then in the 70s, was the fact that I refused to eat raw tomatoes, a staple food in every Israeli household.
I'm 4 years old, and in my daycare, we have the same snack every day: a slice of bread with Gvina Levana (the Israeli soft white cheese spread) and fresh-cut tomato. I would associate daycares with the smell of that cheese and tomato combination for the rest of my life, but I had never eaten it. Never. Instead, I was given a slice of bread with a layer of margarine topped with fresh cucumbers.
But at home, my mom didn’t give up. One day she had an idea: if my child likes tahini so much (and I did!) perhaps she wouldn't mind eating chopped tomatoes swimming in tahini sauce. In other words - the tahini could be a great distraction... from the tomatoes.
Well... she tricked me. I couldn't resist eating this. But recalling this today I suspect that the real reason that it worked was that the bitter-sweetness of the tahini contradicted the strong acidity flavor of the tomatoes, and had created a completely different tomato experience.
Today we know that people like me, who dislike raw tomatoes but love them when they’re fully cooked and seasoned, do not necessarily have a disorder. However, tahini for me, to this day - no matter how it is made or where - would always take me back to my childhood, to my very first memories of flavors that my family shared around the table.
Let's get into the kitchen!
Eli's Tahini Sauce
Israeli kids have their first taste of tahini in their baby food (added for its high amount of nutrients), they grow up a bit and snack on pita with hummus or sweet tahini spread (often made with tahini and date syrup) in daycares. When I was a child in the '70s and '80s, the ultimate birthday party food was pita bread halves with hummus or tahini spread, and a slice of pickled cucumbers tucked in. It was the heyday of the commercial versions of the tahini, a go-to for any picnic lunch and a must-have for a cookout. Falafel stands, on the other hand, provided a completely different tahini experience - a much runny, liquid gold sauce, to the top of the loaded pita.
I remember fondly the long summer days my family spent on the beach, with extended family and close friends. My father would carry a small charcoal grill to feed the crowd with shish kebabs, the wooden folded table was packed with plenty of homemade salads, including Eli's (a dear family friend's) specialty - tahini sauce. Thick and creamy, with extra garlic and extra extra lemon juice, plus one secret ingredient - a few seeds that accidentally fell in the sauce and remained there. It was the queen of all Tahini Sauces.
Family photo with the Pazi's kids, Ashdod beach, circa 1985
When shopping for tahini paste, I prefer Lebanese or Israeli-made ones. The tahini manufacturers in these countries use Humera seeds (grown in the town of Humera, Ethiopia) that are suitable for grinding and producing tasty tahini. So delicious that you can pour it straight from the jar on roasted vegetables, salads, meat, and fish. Keep tahini paste always in your pantry (no need to refrigerate), there are so many ways you can use it. To make the classic tahini sauce you only need salt, lemon, and garlic. With a few additional ingredients and steps, you can make green tahini, baba ghanoush dip, or sweet tahini spread. Variations are endless: add chopped nuts to a more textured tahini dip, pair it with plain yogurt, which naturally has an acidic taste (to enhance it even more squeeze in some lemon juice), or blend with pureed beet for purple tahini. Serve any tahini sauce with pita bread, fresh-cut, or roasted veggies, next to cooked lentils, or chopped salad, or use it as a spread for sandwich bread. Keep prepared tahini sauces in the fridge for up to 3 days, sweet tahini spread can be stored in the pantry for weeks.
Makes about 2 cups
1 cup (240 gr) tahini
3/4 cup cold water, or more, for desired consistency
4-6 garlic cloves, minced (add even more, if you wish)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (2 small lemons or one large), or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
Squeeze lemons into a mixing bowl.
Add tahini paste and garlic.
Add cold water slowly and whisk (manually, there is no need to use an electric blender) until it reaches the preferred consistency. The mixture texture may become doughy after adding water, keep whisking manually using a whisker or a fork, until the water breaks the tahini paste’s particles and the sauce is smooth.
Add salt. Adjust flavors to your taste - add more lemon juice, garlic, or salt, if desired.
Serve with chopped salad, roasted vegetables, or grilled meat.