The day has finally arrived! Agate’s newest cookbook, The Tahini Table by Amy Zitelman, is now available for purchase online or at your favorite local bookstore!
Tahini, made from pressed roasted sesame seeds, is a healthy, vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, and low-sugar superfood rich in Omega fatty acids, protein, and calcium. Although tahini’s historical roots are in the Middle East, Zitelman aims to stretch the culinary borders of tahini outside of traditional Middle-Eastern fare. Most people who know about tahini understand the sesame paste as simply one of the building blocks of hummus. But for Amy Zitelman, CEO and cofounder of woman-owned Soom Foods—the leading purveyor of tahini and tahini products in the American market—the culinary potential of tahini goes far beyond hummus. In The Tahini Table: Go Beyond Hummus with 100 Recipes for Every Meal, tahini is introduced to home cooks as a new pantry staple that can be used in recipes from dips to desserts.
The Tahini Table contains 100 recipes that showcase tahini’s wide range of uses, including tahini hacks for reimagined American classics such as vegan “queso,” eggless mayonnaise, and gluten-free brownies. From Vegan Mac and “Cheese” and Tahini Chicken Schnitzel, to Chocolate Halvah French Toast and Tahini Flan, Zitelman writes with the home cook in mind, incorporating tahini into everyday cooking in delicious and unexpected ways. With beautiful color photos, contributions from top restaurant chefs, and easy substitutions for a variety of diets, The Tahini Table proves that tahini is the next must-have pantry staple for home cooks everywhere.
Q&A with Amy Zitelman, author of The Tahini Table
Many Americans’ exposure to tahini is limited to hummus and other traditional Middle-Eastern fare. What compelled you to write a cooking-with-tahini book for American home cooks?
I’ve had a tahini company (Soom Foods) for over seven years and I’m still inspired daily by tahini’s versatility in the kitchen! That inspiration is coupled with the comfort of tahini’s health benefits, making it easy for me to incorporate tahini into almost everything. But my suggestion of “just add a couple tablespoons into whatever you’re making” doesn’t cut it for people unfamiliar with tahini’s characteristics. I’m so thankful to the dozens of cookbooks I’ve used over the years that have elevated my confidence in the kitchen, and I wanted to create a cooking-with-tahini book to empower other home-cooks to turn to tahini as a trusted ingredient in their repertoire of recipes.
When did you and your sisters decide to start a business, and why tahini?
Tahini came first, the actual business came second. In 2011, my sister Jackie had been living in Israel for a few years when she met (her now husband) Omri. Omri was in the tahini industry—one of the first to bring to market tahini (tehina, as pronounced in Hebrew and Arabic) pressed from Ethiopian White Humera sesame seeds. Our sister Shelby studied business as an undergrad and, when introduced to Omri’s tahini, started asking a lot of questions. Mainly, why wasn’t tahini more popular in the United States?
We fell in love with Omri’s tahini and wanted other Americans to have access to premium tahini and better understand how to use it. After a year and a half of market research and preparation, we scheduled our first import and have had a business ever since.
Do you remember the first time you had tahini? What was the experience like?
I’ve had tahini many times throughout my life but it doesn’t compare until you have truly good tahini. I lived in Israel for about a year and a half from July 2011 throughout 2012. Since I was fluent in Hebrew already, I decided to take an intro to Arabic class at Haifa University that summer. Haifa is not too far from Omri’s moshav (village) and I visited Jackie there on the weekends. I’d heard about Omri’s tahini for months, and had already tasted every tahini I could find in the US while doing my market research. I could tell the difference just by opening the jar. I could immediately tell by smell that it was better than the other varieties of tahini I had been trying. The flavor was a delightful blend of nuttiness and slight bitterness and I knew instantly that my life was about to revolve around this product.
How do you come up with recipe ideas? Do you create a dish and then decide how best to incorporate tahini, or vice versa?
I really wanted to create a cookbook that could be exciting to the most experienced chefs while at the same time be accessible and familiar to novice cooks. Many of the dishes in The Tahini Table are familiar recipes that might normally not have tahini in them—the truth is, when you add tahini to a “regular” dish, the addition of tahini immediately elevates it.
What everyday American dishes do you think are most elevated by the addition of tahini?
Tahini adds a subtle and comforting nuttiness that’s hard to describe unless you’ve tasted it in a dish. Macaroni and Cheese really is one of my favorite foods, and our Vegan Mac n’ Cheez uses tahini, with a few other wet ingredients and spices, to turn simple staples like potatoes, carrots and onion into a creamy (yet vegan) and healthy sauce. Another is cookies—Andrew (Schloss) is one of those parents that always had home-made cookies baked for his children and their friends. I want to be like Andrew as my son, Henry, gets older, and have the Tahini Sugar and Tahini Oatmeal Raisin Cookies from the cookbook in heavy rotation.
Tahini can also really elevate Grain Bowls—California cuisine is a lot like Mediterranean cooking: they have similar climates and are both driven by local and seasonal produce. A bowl with any grain base and tons of vegetables is truly brought together by a good sauce, and I personally think nothing compares to a good tahini sauce.
What are some of the challenges you’ve come across when working with tahini? Do you have any tips for home cooks who have never integrated tahini into their cooking before?
There’s no denying tahini is messy. I recommend measuring out the tahini (using mise en place for all the ingred
ients is super helpful) so you don’t have to deal with pouring while your counter is filled with ingredients to assemble. Keep a damp paper towel or tea towel near by for quick wiping.
Tahini also separates like other natural nut and seed butters. I use very separated tahini because more often than not I’m taking home older tahini from the warehouse. Our tips for re-incorporating the tahini in the book are very comprehensive. I’ve also scraped up the bottom of a jar and then inserted a small immersion blender to “zhuj” it back together.
What is your favorite recipe in the book? One recipe that you always go back to?
We have two stir-fry sauces in The Tahini Table. Stir-fry is one of my husband’s go-to dishes and has been the primary example I’ve used of an easy way for someone to incorporate tahini into their cooking. Both of the recipes we developed for the book are in our frequent rotation.
Also… the TAHINI FIG TOAST! Full stop, this is the most mouth-watering, delicious, open-faced sandwich in existence. The full-spread photo in the book makes my stomach tingle!
What’s next for you?
I’m still committed, day in and day out, to growing Soom! As CEO, I spend my time supporting the team into our full potential. In my personal time, I’m focusing on my home and family. I recently moved outside of the city and I am getting started on a vegetable garden! I’m already growing herbs but can’t wait to harvest my own vegetables.