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With Independence Day just behind us, it is a good time to declare the queen of Israeli cuisine: tahini. It deserves the crown thanks to a unique combination of healthful qualities, flavor, and a dominant personality, along with an ability to easily absorb such tastes as sour, sweet, and spicy.

Tahini is actually 100 percent sesame. The oldest document relating to human use of sesame was written in cuneiform script 4,000 years ago, and recounted the custom of serving the gods sesame wine. We learn from the writings of the historian Herodotus about systematic cultivation of sesame 3,500 years ago in the region of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers when it served mainly for making make oil.

Ordinary tahini is produced by hulling sesame seeds, roasting and crushing them through several machines that resemble a traditional millstone, until a buttery consistency is attained. At that point the temperature is kept low and the pace slow and controlled to preserve sesame's inherent nutritional values.

Three weeks after the manufacturing date the oil begins to separate from the sesame residues - a process that makes stirring difficult and leaves a hard sediment at the bottom of the jar. Cold has the effect of slowing down this process, so tahini should be refrigerated even before the container has been opened.

Full organic tahini, by contrast, uses sesame that is crushed in a cold-press process, without hulling and without roasting. Organic tahini is made without soaking the sesame seeds in salt and without chemical additives. Salt is used primarily to speed up production and shorten the hulling process.

Making good homemade tahini requires little effort. You pour a cup of good raw tahini into a bowl, squeeze in fresh lemon juice and stir with a wooden spoon. The lemon juice will make stirring easier and produce a smooth and glistening texture. Add a little cold water - preferably cold mineral water (which will ensure a light color ) - and stir moderately. Continue to stir until you get a thick and smooth consistency. At this point you taste and adjust the seasonings, adding water or lemon juice to taste, a little salt, a little black pepper and, voila, the queen is ready. You can judiciously add garlic, parsley, cumin, olive oil, and yogurt, but only a small amount so as not to overpower the deep sesame flavor.

The Queen of Sheba

Ethiopian sesame is considered finer and tastier than its counterparts grown in South America, Kenya, Sudan, and India. Humera sesame seeds are the highest-grade sesame species in Ethiopia, because of the good cultivation conditions and rich soil it enjoys.

Amara, the Ethiopian tahini, is the best of the bunch. It is made from Humera sesame, full and organic, in a cold-press process. The sesame seeds are ground using a traditional millstone made of black basalt stone, which yields a coarse, thick consistency. Its excellent flavor is sweet with a gently bitter bite to it.

The process of germinating the sesame seeds is the great secret to this tasty tahini, which provides a larger amount of calcium (10 times more than dairy products and four times more than any other tahini ). The germination process breaks down the oxalic acid contained in the hull (turning iti into disaccharide, which is what gives tahini its slightly sweet tone ) and enabling the body to fully absorb the calcium and other minerals.

The glass jar in which Amara comes preserves the quality of the product, since the fatty acids in tahini corrode plastic containers. You can buy Amara tahini at health food stores, priced at around NIS 22 for 350 grams.

Hot salad of tahini with goat's yogurt, confit tomatoes, and torn pita

Ingredients (6 servings ):

8 date tomatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

black pepper

1/2 teaspoon sugar

300 milliliters homemade tahini

150 milliliters goat's yogurt

1 teaspoon lemon juice

lemon zest

1 tablespoon olive oil

toasted pita

basil leaves

1 ripe tomato, halved

Preparation:

Heat an oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Slice the date tomatoes in half, arrange in an oven pan lined with baking paper, drizzle olive oil over them, season with black pepper and sugar, and roast for 1 hour.

In a bowl, combine tahini, yogurt, lemon juice, lemon zest, and olive oil. Heat in a frying pan over a low flame until gently bubbling. Remove from the flame and top with roasted date tomatoes, torn pita, basil leaves, and a generous helping of olive oil. Squeeze fresh tomato seeds and coarse salt over everything and serve immediately.

Kebab with roast onion, tahini, and schug

Ingredients (6 servings )

a slice of white bread without the crust

500 grams ground flank meat

250 grams ground lamb

1/2 white onion, chopped

1/2 cup of parsley, chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 a teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon cumin

2 onions, sliced into thick rings

a pita sliced open

raw tahini

homemade tahini

schug (Yemenite hot sauce )

Preparation:

Soak the slice of bread for an hour in 2 cups of cold water. Drain well. Combine the meat with the drained slice of bread, olive oil, chopped onion, parsley and spices, and mix for at least 10 minutes. Form thick squashed patties and chill them in the refrigerator, covered in plastic wrap, for at least 1 hour.

Roast the onion rings on a grill or in a griddle pan, until browned. Grill the kebab for 5 minutes on each side. Drizzle raw tahini over the toasted pita slices, lay the onion rings on top, then the kebabs. Heap a little homemade tahini on each kebab, plus half a teaspoon of schug, and serve.

Hot mesabeha of cauliflower and tahini

Ingredients (6 servings ):

half a cauliflower separated into florets

2 tablespoons olive oil

a little salt and black pepper

250 milliliters hummus spread

1/2 cup cooked chickpeas

1/2 cup homemade tahini

1/2 cup raw tahini

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon cumin

chopped parsley for garnish

Preparation:

Heat an oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Place the cauliflower florets in an oven pan lined with baking paper, drizzle olive oil over them, season with salt and black pepper, and roast for 30 minutes.

Spread the hummus on a flat plate and on top of that spoon warm roasted cauliflower, raw tahini, homemade tahini, and hot chickpeas. Drizzle olive oil on top, sprinkle cumin and parsley, and serve.

Sabih baladi

Ingredients (6 servings ):

3 baladi (indigenous ) eggplants

6 hard boiled eggs

6 pickled lemons

1 cup homemade tahini

1 cup raw tahini

olive oil

Atlantic sea salt

Preparation:

Roast the eggplants on all sides over an open fire, until softened. Cut them in half and place in a strainer to drain. Drizzle a little olive oil over each eggplant half and salt it. Top with hard boiled egg quarters, slices of pickled lemon, raw tahini and homemade tahini.

Raw tahini, date syrup, and pistachio cake

Ingredients:

125 grams butter at room temperature

100 grams sugar

3 eggs

lemon zest

1/2 cup silan (date syrup )

1/2 cup raw tahini

2 containers Yogourmet-brand sheep's yogurt (280 milliliters )

150 grams self-rising flour, sifted

150 grams ground pistachios

pinch of salt

butter for greasing the pan

2 tablespoons unroasted sesame seeds

Preparation:

Heat an oven to 170 degrees Celsius.

Beat the sugar and butter together in an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and lemon zest, and beat. Lower the mixer speed and add tahini, silan, and yogurt. Beat briefly. Add the flour and ground pistachios and mix by hand.

Lightly grease a Bundt pan with butter and liberally sprinkle sesame on the sides. Pour in the batter and bake for 1 hour.

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