Over the years I’ve bought tahini—toasted sesame paste—to use in different dishes, and I’ve never been satisfied with it. It has always had a chalky texture and uninspiring flavor, even tasting a bit off, probably indicating it had been sitting on the shelf too long. So I decided to try making it myself. Turns out it’s not hard at all but you do need a food processor (a mini works great).
Using Mark’s Roasted Nut Butter recipe from How to Bake Everything as my jumping off point, I toasted 1 1/2 cups sesame seeds in a 350° oven until they were golden brown (for about 10 minutes), then poured them into the food processor container. I let the machine run until the seeds were chopped. Then I added extra virgin olive oil, starting first with 2 tablespoons and adding more, 1 tablespoon at a time, processing on high until the seeds were ground and formed a viscous paste; altogether I added 5 tablespoons, but you can fine-tune that to whatever consistency you prefer (however, be careful not to add too much because you don’t want the final result to taste distinctly of olive oil; to keep that from happening, you can swap out a tablespoon or 2 of the olive oil for sesame oil).
Then the taste test: No chalkiness, just the toasty flavor of sesame seeds, with a bit of residual crunch. But it was missing something, not quite coming together. Two pinches of salt did the trick.
Tahini in hand, I decided to try out a couple of flavor spins with hummus, using Mark’s hummus recipe as my foundation; you can find it here. First up was beet. I roasted a small whole beet in a 400° oven until I could stick a sharp knife in it with no resistance, which took the better part of an hour. A paring knife made short work of removing the skin, then I cut it into a couple of pieces and pitched it into the food processor along with the chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice, processing until it was smooth. The resulting hummus was a gorgeous ruby red; flavor-wise you couldn’t really detect the beet, aside from a hint of minerally-ness.
Next up was sriracha-carrot hummus. Into the food processor went 1 medium shredded carrot along with a tablespoon of sriracha, which has become one of my favorite hot sauces to use in cooking because it’s as much about adding flavor as heat. This time I didn’t completely puree the mixture, preferring to have the carrot remain in small bits throughout, which yielded another beautiful hummus, this one flecked with orange. The flavor was wonderful too: The carrot added crunchy sweetness—but not too much—balanced by the complex heat of the sriracha.
I’m not the kind of cook who wants to make everything from scratch, but this was a lesson in how vastly superior homemade can be to store-bought, with each of these preparations coming together literally in minutes.