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  • Writer's pictureHila

Memories of red sour tomatoes and tahini sauce

I was a very picky eater as a child. In this photo, my mother feeds me while I’m distracted by a toy, with my brother's and aunt's help. Many kids develop bad eating habits, but in my case, what was utterly unacceptable back in the 1970s was that I refused to eat raw tomatoes—a staple food in every Israeli meal.


I'm four years old, and in my daycare, we have the same snack every day: a slice of crusty 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. Instead, I was given a slice of bread with a layer of margarine topped with fresh cucumbers. 


But at home, my mom found an interesting way to feed me tomatoes. I liked tahini, so she served me a bowl with fresh tomato slices covered in runny tahini sauce. Well... she managed to trick me. That creamy tahini was a great distraction from the tomatoes, and I ate it all. When I recall this today, I suspect that the real reason it worked was that the tahini's bitter sweetness contradicted the tomatoes' strong acidity flavor and created a completely different experience.


Today, we know that people like me, who dislike raw tomatoes but love them when 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.

Now, let's get into the kitchen!



Eli's Tahini Sauce

Israeli kids have their first taste of tahini in their baby food (added to it for its high amount of nutrients). In daycares, they snack on pita with hummus or sweet tahini spread (often made with tahini and date syrup). 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 top off 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 Pazi's (a close family friend) specialty - tahini sauce. Thick and creamy, with extra garlic and 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.


A family photo with the Pazi family's children, Ashdod Beach, circa 1985 (I'm in the black-and-white strapless swimsuit).


When shopping for tahini paste, I prefer Lebanese or Israeli-made ones. The tahini manufacturers in these countries use Humera seeds (grown in Humera, Ethiopia), which are suitable for grinding and producing tasty tahini. It is so delicious that you can pour it straight from the jar on roasted vegetables, salads, meat, and fish. Keep tahini paste in your pantry (no need to refrigerate); you can use it in many ways. You only need salt, lemon, and garlic to make the classic tahini sauce. You can make green tahini, baba ghanoush dip, or sweet tahini spread with additional ingredients and steps. 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. Store prepared tahini sauces in the fridge for up to 3 days, and sweet tahini spreads can be stored in the pantry for weeks.


Makes about 2 cups


Ingredients

  • 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


Preparation

  1. Squeeze lemons into a mixing bowl.

  2. Add tahini paste and garlic.

  3. Add cold water slowly and whisk (manually; there is no need to use an electric blender) until it reaches the preferred consistency. The mixture 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.

  4. Add salt. Adjust the flavors to your taste—add more lemon juice, garlic, or salt, if desired.

  5. Serve with chopped salad, roasted vegetables, or grilled meat.



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