One of the most exotic trips I have ever taken was to the sesame-growing area of Ethiopia, a country I had always wanted to visit. At a wedding in Tel Aviv, I was invited to go with the Soom sisters, who have a tahini company in Israel. I immediately accepted.
After a harrowing plane trip from Addis Ababa, followed by an hour’s trip on roads where we were constantly dodging cattle, camels, and women walking with water bottles on their heads, we arrived in Humera—known for the quality of its sesame seeds, which are used uniquely for tahini. Although sesame seeds originated in China, tahini from Ethiopian seeds has become popular in the United States as an ingredient in pastas, and vegetable and meat dishes; it is high in protein, vitamins B and E, as well as magnesium and iron. It has branched out far beyond baba ghanouj and hummus, two dishes eaten now and when I lived in Israel in the early 1970s and wrote about it in my first cookbook, The Flavor of Jerusalem, which appeared in 1975.
But ever since Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, two sons of Jerusalem, wrote their bestselling Jerusalem, and included delicious tahini cookies and other exciting new recipes, coupled with Mike Solomonov’s soon-to-follow Zahav, the popularity of the ingredient went off the charts. And it doesn’t hurt that it is good for you, too.
Today, I show my son David how to use tahini to make delicious cookies.
Joan Nathan is Tablet Magazine’s food columnist and the author of 10 cookbooks including King Solomon’s Table: a Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World.