for years i have seen people commenting all over the internet about how they have had difficulties making this sauce. i don't really understand why as it is very straightforward and a breeze to make — it is pretty much fool proof. in conversation one day with someone, it dawned on me one day that part of the problem stemmed from the fact that some people are making the mistake of not incorporating the settled oil and paste together before using it! they simply take the hardened mass of paste to make it. though i've never done this, i imagine this is part of the problem.
the base for this sauce, which is commonly used on falafel, is the slightly bitter paste made from hulled and only lightly roasted sesame seeds. after bottling and settling, a thick cement-like paste will solidify on the bottom of the jar and a layer of sesame oil will float on top. in order to use the paste, it has to be stirred well and shaken to blend it back into one cohesive sauce.
called tahin'ah ("tahini") طحينة in arabic, and techina תחינה in hebrew [both words stemming from the meaning "ground up"], this mixture is also used as a sauce for meat dishes, on roasted or steamed vegetables and for making the middle eastern type of halvah. it can also be used in baking and as a substitute, in some cases, for peanut butter.
sesame seed paste is not only a middle eastern thing; different varieties exist in regional cuisines of china, japan and korea. the asian one is much darker however.
the tehina sauce can be made either completely by hand as i do it or in a food processor or blender. obviously, the latter two methods are quicker and less labour intensive. making it by hand is not much harder and remains my preferred method.
basic sesame seed sauce
1/2 c "tahini" paste
2- 4 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1/2 c water
juice of 1 lemon
salt & sugar to taste
ground cumin, optional
"by hand" method:
mix the paste into the oil if necessary and then shake very well. repeat a few times until you have a smooth mixture which is pourable. be sure to mix from the bottom of the jar.
peel the garlic cloves and place them in a mortar with the coarse salt. grind them together until you have a paste.
place the garlic in a 2 cup measuring cup that you can pour from. add the lemon juice to it and mix well.
add the water and mix again.
place the tehina in bowl and add 1/3 of the liquid. mix it well. it will become like a thick sauce, almost like peanut butter.
add the next third of the liquid.
once you stir it, you will see it changes colour and becomes pastier and clumpier. this is normal.
add the last third of the liquid. it will form a mass at this point usually.
keep mixing until it is thin and airy. the bubbles will disappear afterwards.
add salt and a bit of sugar (to balance the lemon and salt) and cumin if desired -- i never use it but some people like it.
whip the sauce again for a minute and serve.
the sauce will probably thicken upon refrigeration. just add a bit more lemon juice or water and mix it well with a whisk.
food processor or blender method:
if making in a processor or blender, place the garlic, lemon juice, water and salt together and puree until the garlic is incorporated. you should not have chunks or large pieces; it needs to be smooth.
add the tehina paste to the blender or processor and incorporate both until you have an off-white thin sauce. add more water if you want it thinner.
add salt, a bit of sugar and cumin if desired.