The City Magazine Since 1975

Open Sesame

November 2017
Open Sesame
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Smooth, subtle in flavor, and healthy to boot, tahini is enhancing eats around town

WHAT: If you’ve tried hummus, chances are you’ve had tahini, a creamy, nutty paste made from ground sesame seeds that’s in most versions of the Greek condiment. But as several peninsula chefs have recently proven, the Middle Eastern pantry staple has numerous uses. “It’s incredibly versatile,” explains chef Chelsey Conrad, who adds the ingredient to more than a dozen items on her Mediterranean-inspired menu at Butcher & Bee and sister restaurant The Daily. “It lends a nutty smoothness to both sweet and savory dishes.”

WHERE TO TASTE:

Butcher & Bee (1805 Morrison Dr., https://butcherandbee.com/)

Conrad praises the health benefits of tahini—it’s chock-full of healthy fats, amino acids, B vitamins, calcium, and protein, for example—as well as its ability to give heft to meatless and dairy-free recipes. “I love adding a beneficial fat to vegan cooking,” she says. “It prevents it from feeling too ‘healthy’ and helps keep the dish craveable.” At Butcher & Bee, the sesame paste is slathered on veggie burgers and pita sandwiches and tossed with an appetizer of eggplants and olives; it’s even swirled into a creamy mocha latte at The Daily. “I have yet to find a flavor that is not both complemented and enhanced by tahini,” Conrad notes.

Harbinger Café (1107 King St., https://www.theharbingercafe.com/)

At this petite bakery and café near Hampton Park, chef Greer Gilchrist adds tahini to a host of sweets and lunch items. The ingredient is folded into cookie dough batter, while a black sesame seed variety combined with chocolate becomes a Nutella-like filling for cinnamon rolls. It’s also stirred with honey and cinnamon in granola, coating the grain mixture with a blanket of smooth sweetness. “It’s like healthy candy,” Gilchrist laughs. Tahini shines in veggie sides as well, replacing mayonnaise in a raw broccoli salad and mingling with roasted cauliflower, Mission figs, quinoa, and sunflower seeds in a vegan riff on tabbouli.

FIG (232 Meeting St., http://eatatfig.com/)

Traditional tahini is modified here under the hand of chef Jason Stanhope, who makes his spin on the spread by grinding Anson Mills antebellum benne seeds. “Benne seed is a pillar of Southern foodways,” he explains. “When we make tahini here, we’re not just grinding plain old sesame seeds. In fact, the benne seed we use is barely recognizable to the modern sesame seed; it’s nuanced with notes of hay, nuttiness, and truffle.” The paste is combined with lemon, olive oil, and garlic to form a creamy sauce, which is added to an appetizer with poached shrimp, fennel, cucumbers, and pickled peppers.

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