Sunday, May 27, 2007

a great sauce

this post is a bit late and really should have either been the prelude to, or follow-up for falafel 101, but i guess better late than never ;P

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.

tehina sauce
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.



Emily DeVoto, Ph.D., said...

Very useful. I'm in a Middle Eastern groove, eating various combinations of pita, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, feta, and falafel - at most meals! - and techina is the perfect accompaniment. Thanks for the in-depth advice!

Maninas said...

I have a question on the loosely related subject - humous. The trouble, my trouble, is that I think it turns out slightly bitter when I make it. Does this have anything to do with using tinned chickpeas, or sth to do with the tahina? I thought the bitterness comes from one of those two. Maybe I should precook the chickpeas? Thanks! Hvala!

burekaboy — said...

emily - you're welcome :) sounds like your having a real mezze-fest :D as for the tips/advice for making the tehina, i still don't get what people are doing wrong to mess it up; i have a feeling they stop when it bulks up and think something has gone wrong. then again, when you're doing it for the first time, i gather it's a logical assumption. hope this helps.

hey maninas - you're not off the mark at all. i knew i should have added what i'm about to tell you to the post! the sesame seed paste alone, or "tahini", naturally has a slightly bitter edge to it and that is why you are tasting it. canned chickpeas are generally not bitter (at least ones i've ever tried). this is why i add a bit of sugar to try to balance the sauce. also, we add this sauce to the hummus and NOT the paste directly -- at least that is my experience with hummus. perhaps some people add the paste directly. i don't see why it would not work and i'm sure there are recipes out there doing just that.

maybe make a half portion of this and use it in your hummus; just grind the peas up and add the tehina sauce here and add extra lemon juice, water, salt and extra V olive oil as necessary to achieve texture and flavour you like. as an additional note, "real" hummus is rather runny as opposed to the very thick cement-like mixtures u find in some places. i have a post on hummus i will put up shortly; just haven't gotten around to it. let me know if u have other questions i can try to help you with.

Maninas: Food Matters said...

Thanks! In the first paragraph, do you mean that you add the sauce comprising of a little sugar + tahina to the hummus? I just wasn't 100% sure what 'this sauce' refers to. :) thanks again!

I really love hummus, and chick peas have become one of my storecupboard ingredients! Last year I got completely addicted to it, in fact! I will try to make it as soon as I get a new bowl for my food processor (see my reply to your comments on my blog).

burekaboy — said...

maninas - sorry, i meant the finished tehina sauce (with the lemon, etc. in it). add that. often one serves (here i mean the israeli way) the tehina sauce with the finished hummus. it is sometimes put in the center of the hummus in a depression pushed into the chickpea paste as an extra. of course, the hummus can just be served on its own. all depends who is making it!

hummus can be addictive, especially just with pita or crudites, for a snack.

will check out ur comment.

Maninas said...

Btw, looking forward to your hummus recipe!

burekaboy — said...

maninas - soon on the way ;p

oh re: previous comment, i think people just use straight tahini paste as they are going to add lemon and oil, etc anyway .... in israeli/jewish homes, the prepared tehina sauce is pretty much a staple like ketchup is. so i gather that's why it's added but both are acceptable. using the prepared tahini means adding less of the other ingredients to the finished hummus.