The Tahini Table

  Amy Zitelman takes tahini, a ground sesame paste used in making  hummus, to the next level in her new cookbook,  The Tahini Table: Go Beyond Hummus with 100 Recipes for Every Meal (Agate 2021; $29). Zitelman, CEO of Soom, a Philadelphia-based company that makes tahini products, is part of the ever expanding hummus craze. You don’t have to think that far back to remember when hummus, the Arabic word for chickpeas,  was just a plain Middle Eastern chickpea dip usually served with warm pita bread. Now hummus, whose historic roots go back to 13th century Egypt where the climate and soil are just right for growing chickpeas, comes in more than 20 flavors such as beet, roasted red pepper, basil tomato, and chipotle.

  The world hummus market, according to Market Research Future, is forecast to grow at a rate of nearly 13% per year until 2027. That’s a lot of chickpeas. But Zitelman, who founded Soom Foods with her sisters Shelby and Jackie, wants it to be more than an ingredient for just one single dish no matter how popular it is.

   The three sisters formed Soom after a trip to Israel where they tasted a carrot cake made by Jackie’s mother-in-law. It was so delicious that they wanted to make it back home in the U.S. but couldn’t find the type of tahini needed. Since then, Zitelman has been  named to Forbes magazine’s “30 under 30” class of 2018 and their products featured in the New York Times and food magazines such as Bon Appetit and Food & Wine. Soom specializes in tahini products such as their single source origin premium tahini and Soom Chocolate Sweet Tahini though they’ve also added another Middle Eastern ingredient–  Silan Date Syrup–a natural sweetener made exclusively with dates from the Jordan Valley. They source their sesame seeds from the Humera region of Ethiopia that is considered the prime place to grow them.

   The cookbook, co-authored with  award winning writer Andrew Schloss, rifts on various ways you can used tahini which makes a great substitute for eggs, mayonnaise, cream, and cheese. Vegan and kosher, Soom’s tahini is also gluten, paleo, and dairy free. Divided into seven chapters– tahini basics, savory and sweet sauces,  hummus and other dips, breakfast, main dishes, sweets, sandwiches, salads, and sides– Zitelman has created easy recipes for each category. Included are the carrot cake recipe that started it all that Zitelman describes as super moist and rich with the tahini giving it a nutty aftertaste. Another plus, because using tahini reduces the amount of oil in the recipe, cake never gets greasy the way many carrot cakes do. There’s also chicken schnitzel, sugar cookie that’s similar to, according to Zitelman, a classic peanut butter cookie crossed with shortbread.

   Sesame seeds date as far back as 5000 BCE to India says Zitelman.

   Her goal is to make tahini with its ancient roots a favorite of American home cooks. If that sounds farfetched, consider the increasing popularity for condiments such as Tabasco, Sriracha and pesto as well as a variety of flavored mayonnaise, barbecue sauces, and mustards.

Tahini Chicken Schnitzel

Serves 4

2 cups Creamy Tahini Vinaigrette (below)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon harissa seasoning or other dried hot pepper seasoning, divided

4 (8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

¾ cup panko breadcrumbs or cornmeal

¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon coarse sea salt

Mild vegetable oil, such as grapeseed, for frying

2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, dill, or thyme (optional)

Mix the tahini vinaigrette, cumin, and ¼ teaspoon of the harissa in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup (one with a handle and a spout). Pour half of vinaigrette mixture into a gallon-size zip-top plastic bag and set the rest aside.

Flatten the chicken breast halves by pushing down on the thicker parts with the flat of your palm, until each piece of chicken is no more than 1 inch thick at its thickest part. Try to make the thickness the same for each piece to keep the frying time consistent. Put the chicken in the bag with the vinaigrette mixture. Seal the bag, leaving an inch open at the corner, and squeeze the empty parts to force out any air. Zip it fully closed. Massage the bag to disperse the liquid all around the chicken and put in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour; longer (up to 24 hours) is better.

About 30 minutes before you’re ready to serve, mix the breadcrumbs and all-purpose flour, salt, and remaining ¼ teaspoon of harissa on a plate.

Set a wire rack on a rimmed sheet pan or on a sheet of aluminum foil beside your flour plate. Designating one hand for only the dry flouring and one hand for only the wet chicken, use the “wet” hand to lift one piece of chicken from the marinade, allow any excess to drip back into the bag, and put the chicken in the flour.

With your “dry” hand, flip the flour all around the edges of the chicken. Without touching the wet parts, use the same hand to flip the chicken over. Keep flipping until the chicken is well coated. With the same dry hand, lift the chicken and shake it gently to remove any loose flour, then transfer it to the prepared rack. Repeat this process with the rest of the chicken pieces, remembering to use your designated hands to prevent battering your fingers.

Put a large skillet over medium-high heat and fill with 1 inch of oil. Warm until an instant-read thermometer registers 355°F, about 5 minutes. (If you don’t have a thermometer, you can test the temperature by sticking the end of a wooden spoon into the middle of the oil. If bubbles form within a few seconds, it’s up to temp.) Turn the heat down to medium-low. Set a clean wire rack over another sheet pan or sheet of foil next to the stove.

Gently slip the breaded chicken into the hot oil, being careful not to splash. Fry until golden brown on the bottom side, about 3 minutes. (If it’s still not brown at 5 minutes, turn up the heat a little.) Flip the chicken pieces over and fry on the other side until browned, about 3 minutes more. Be patient when frying. Rushing will make the crust too dark and hard. We’re going for a lightly golden and delicately crisp crust.

Drain the chicken on the clean rack for a few seconds, then transfer to a serving platter. Drizzle some of the reserved vinaigrette mixture over the chicken and serve the rest on the side. Scatter the herbs (if using) over the top and serve right away.

Creamy Tahini Vinaigrette

Makes about 1¾ cups

⅓ cup premium tahini paste

2 tablespoons brown or Dijon mustard

1 garlic clove, minced with coarse sea salt

½ cup ice-cold water

⅓ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

⅓ cup red wine vinegar

⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Whisk the tahini, mustard, garlic, water, lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl until smooth and creamy. It should be the consistency of a creamy salad dressing, like ranch.

Store in a closed container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Tahini Sugar Cookies

Makes 30 cookies

6 tablespoons (3⁄4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ cup premium tahini paste

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup packed light brown sugar

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons raw sugar, such as demerara or turbinado, and/or sesame seeds (optional)

Set two oven racks near the center of the oven. Turn the oven to 350°F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Beat the butter, tahini, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and salt in a large bowl with a wooden spoon until just combined. Mix in the egg and vanilla.

Mix the flour and baking soda in a small bowl, then stir the flour mixture into the batter until it is no longer visible.

Scoop the batter with a 1-tablespoon measure and arrange as mounds on the prepared pans, about 1 ½ inches apart. You should be able to fit 10 cookies per sheet. Wet your hands and flatten the mounds so that each is about ⅜ inch thick. Sprinkle the tops with the raw sugar or sesame seeds (if using).

Bake until the bottoms are lightly browned, about 10 minutes, switching the pans between racks halfway through. Cool the cookies on the pans for 5 minutes, then transfer them to wire racks to cool completely. When the pans are at room temperature again, form the remaining batter into cookies and bake in the same way.

Store in a closed container at room temperature for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 1 month.

Reprinted with permission from The Tahini Table by Amy Zitelman, Agate Publishing, November 2020.

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