Raw tehina long ago ceased playing second fiddle to hummus and fava beans or eggplant boats. Versatile from first course to last, tehina is gaining an expanding audience of admirers the world over, both vegetarian and carnivore.
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Tehina is a pate of sesame seeds that have been sifted, soaked, washed, dried, roasted (or not) and ground, shelled (or not), and stone-ground. It’s then cold-pressed or, industrially, rapidly using pressure and heat.
The various ways to prepare tehina are what, among other things, account for its taste, color and nutritional value. For example, tehina from sesame seeds that have been soaked and shelled in a salt-water solution will be lighter and saltier and will contain more sodium. Roasted tehina will tend to a more golden hue and a sharper, nutty flavor as opposed to the complex and deeper tehina ground from unroasted seeds.
The flavor and taste of tehina may be a matter for debate, but its nutritional value is not. It’s doubtlessly healthy — as long as you’re not allergic to it — and whole tehina, sprouted and unroasted from unshelled seeds, is the healthiest of all. Here’s a rule to go by: The darker the tehina, the healthier it is.
How to choose
How you choose your tehina can depend on what role it will play in a meal. Disclaimer: All the types of tehina below are selected on the basis of personal taste and experience. The choices are not intended as advertising.
Tehina to be served with hummus: If you are using tehina as one of the ingredients in preparing hummus, you’ll usually want a version that is lighter and more delicate in its taste and texture, so it won’t overpower the hummus. Good brands of tehina for this purpose are Al-Arz, Barka’s Shwayeh-Shwayeh and the Samaritans Har Bracha brand.
Tehina in raw form (to decorate eggplant, for example): You’ll probably want a type with a more dominant taste. In that case, your options are almost limitless, from nutty-colored tahini, such as the excellent Jerusalem Tahini; Saba Haviv; Hamelech (deep taste, available from the Mahane Yehuda market); Nazareth, which has touches of sunflower-seed flavor; or the full-bodied and wonderful Ethiopian Shiba brand.
Tehina for snack or dessert: This might lead you to a less salty version that retains a deep, strong taste. Good examples of tehina that will complement cream dishes and any dessert are the excellent Halel (deep, nutty and balanced flavor); Zahav (sweetish and elegant, the one in the glass jar), and the bittersweet, sprouted Ethiopian Amara brand (also called Humra).
Basic tehina (you have to start somewhere)
Ingredients for 4-6 portions:
1 cup raw tehina
1 cup cold water (more water produces thinner tehina; less water, denser tehina)
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: parsley (for green tahini)
Tips for simply wonderful tehina
1. Lemon adds a lot but orange makes it interesting; replace the lemon juice in the basic recipe with juice from half an orange. The result is sweetish, interesting and wonderful.
2. Replace the water with half a cup of black beer.
3. For white tehina with a milky texture, use ice water.
4. A level teaspoon of Turkish coffee will give the tehina a nuttier flavor. Cocoa does the same thing, but not as powerfully.
5. Replace half the quantity of sesame tehina with pate of another type, for example from almonds, pumpkin, cashews or pistachios.
6. “Tehinighurt” – This combination is almost hackneyed in some parts of Tel Aviv, but its texture is always surprising. Moreover, the contrast of flavors and textures created by a tehina that is creamy and sour-sweet-bitter complements many dishes, from baked goods like brioches to steamed vegetables, fish and soups.
Special thanks (in directives and recipes) to Enak Mawasee, Soduki Abumukh, Alla Q., Fadi B., Tal McGowan, Paul Nirens, Amos Sion and Omer Ben-Gil