One of the things I love about my “job” as a food writer is that people email me all the time with questions, mistaking me for some kind of expert. Where do you eat when you’re in Nashville? They ask. Or Can you recommend a good food mill? I see you have marble countertops, do you worry about stains? I plan to make your Vongole for friends next week, what should I serve with it? The speediness of my response to these emails is in direct proportion to my knowledge of the topic. If I know the answer or have a strong opinion about something, I will usually write back right away. If not…well maybe some of you out there are still waiting for replies from 2013. (Ugh, sorry.) You’d think by now, after two decades working in and around the food world, that I wouldn’t be stumped quite as often as I am. You’d think that after writing four cookbooks, I’d know the exact teaspoon measurement of “juice from a half a lime” or that I wouldn’t have to look up the correct spelling of chili with an ‘i’ and chile with an “e.” Or that I would know how long that pasta/sauce/casserole lasts in the freezer. You’d also think I’d have an arsenal of brand loyalties — that I’d always buy the same grainy mustard or the same barbecue sauce or the same tahini.
I can’t believe how many different brands of tahini I’ve bought over the years. While the rest of the internet was falling in love with the ingredient over the past decade, I kept stalling out on my enthusiasm for it. All the jars I’d bring home seemed to have strange aftertastes or too-thick consistencies. My homemade hummus, while usually better than store-bought, still seemed to be not quite reaching its full potential. It’s not like this kept me up at night or anything, but I will say that ever since Phoebe started only selectively eating dairy, I’ve felt a new urgency to find a go-to, especially since tahini lends a creaminess to dressings and dishes that you can only usually get from (now verboten) milk or butter.
So I finally did what you guys do — I asked a food blogger. And not just any food blogger — superstar Molly Yeh, who, for a while there, was using so much tahini (in milkshakes, chocolate chip cookies, on glazed chicken ) I thought that maybe she had some investments in the sesame seed sector. Because she’s Molly, she wrote back almost immediately (ahem, @dinneralovestory). She said she pretty much only uses Soom, and I could find it at Whole Foods or Amazon. I followed her marching orders and bought a jar.
The first thing I did was make a whipped sweet potato dip (pictured above) that I’d eat on the regs in the 90s thanks to Josie’s on the Upper West Side, where they served it alongside the starter bread basket. (Any other dinosaurs out there remember this?) Since sweet potatoes are one of the few starchy foods that make the cut for Phoebe’s Paleo-ish regimen, I’ve been looking for interesting ways to prepare them, and this one seemed perfect. What I noticed first about Soom’s tahini was the smooth, creamy consistency — there was none of the greasy graininess that I was so used to — and I whirled it into the potatoes with some spices and warm water, then served with a few dipping options (paleo-friendly and otherwise) to snack on before dinner. It had just the right hint of nuttiness — no bitterness, no aftertaste — and went fast. A few days later, I made the spicy tahini dressing from Saladish, drizzled it over baked sweet potatoes, and showered the whole thing with chives. Let’s just say we did not miss the sour cream. I’ve made tahini dressing many times before, but I knew almost instantly that this recipe, with this tahini, was the one forevermore. Now there is always a jar of it in our refrigerator, not only because Phoebe loves it for veggie-dipping, but because it wakes up almost anything on the grill, from chicken to bok choy to kale.
As if the news of discovering my go-to tahini was not exciting enough, the nice folks at Soom have decided to offer a free Soom two-pack (a jar of Sesame Premium Tahini, a jar of Chocolate Sweet Tahini Halva Spread) and a Soom onesie (size 6-12 months) to one lucky DALS reader. Comment below before noon (ET) on Monday, June 18 to be eligible. (Special attention paid to tahini-related comments!) Thanks Soom! Thanks Molly! Have a great weekend, everybody. Update: The winner has been notified. Congrats Anu!
Spicy Tahini Dressing
Excerpted (and slightly adapted) from Saladish by Ilene Rosen (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2018
Makes 1¾ cups
1 cup tahini, at room temperature
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 small garlic clove (optional)
3⁄4 cup water
1 teaspoon harissa, or to taste (brands vary in concentration and spiciness)
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
Combine the tahini, lemon zest and juice, garlic, if using, and water in the bowl of a food processor or in a blender and process to combine. Check the consistency—it should be thin enough to toss with leaves or drizzle on top of potatoes; add another tablespoon or two of water if needed. Add the harissa and salt and process until smooth. The dressing keeps for several days in a covered container in the refrigerator.
Sweet Potato Tahini Dip
Inspired by Josie’s (RIP!)
1 1/4 cups baked sweet potatoes, usually 2 small potatoes or 1 large
2 tablespoons tahini
1/2 teaspoon curry
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons warm water
Blend everything together in a food processor (I use a mini food processor), adding water one tablespoon at a time until it reaches desired consistency.
P.S. Molly’s TV show, Girl Meets Farm premieres on the Food Network on June 24, 11 am ET/ 10 am CT/ 11 am PT.