I have not yet met anyone who does not like tahini. It is a versatile ingredient with a unique flavour and can be used to make delicious dressings, creamy soups, cakes and sweets. It needs to be stored properly and integrated into dishes in a certain way, otherwise it may curdle and ruin your dish.

A versatile ingredient with a unique flavour that can be used to make delicious dressings, soups and sweets

It is my favourite seed paste and an excellent source of protein and high in Vitamin E, calcium, zinc and essential fatty acids. And it is available now in all sorts of combinations. I especially like the one that comes with honey and another one combined with good dark chocolate.

Tahini can become rancid if it is not stored properly and you need to store it in an airtight container; in the summer months, it needs to be kept in the fridge. Any utensil that is dipped into the jar must be clean and, if the tahini separates, just stir it and it will eventually gain a consistent texture again. Here are some unusual combinations to use in simple every day recipes that are super delicious and I am sure you will love them.

Slow-cooked pork belly rubbed with tahini

2.5kg Pork belly
tahini paste
Olive oil
Salt

The secret to achieving the best crackling is to simply scald the skin with boiling water. You will see it shrivel.

Boiling water

If you are in a hurry, you do not need to score the skin; simply pat the skin dry with a kitchen paper towel, rub the skin with olive oil and put it in the oven.

Before putting it in the oven rub, the flesh with tahini. Do not put tahini on the skin. Put in a roasting dish and place on the middle shelf in a preheated oven at 160ºC and roast for seven hours. Check it from time to time. You do not need to cover it and the skin cooks so slowly and becomes crispy and hard.

I prefer slow-cooked belly, it simply slides off the bone when it is cooked this way. I sometimes put it in the oven overnight at 130ºC and turn up the heat to 200ºC one hour before serving.

The tahini rub gives a wonderful flavour to the cooked meat.

Tahini and honey cake

3 cups self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
A pinch of salt
1 cup walnuts
1 cup sultanas
1 cup tahini with honey, I used prepacked
1 cup stevia
1 tablespoon orange liquor
2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
A pinch of allspice
A pinch of cinnamon
A few drops good vanilla extra
Grated zest of an orange
4 eggs

This cake is one of my usual all-in-one, just fold in the liquid ingredients with the dry ingredients barely mixed, using a large metal spoon. I use no added sugar or butter and the cake is ready in no time at all. The result: it looks great and tastes even better than it looks. All those Mediterranean flavours, mingled together in a light and fluffly consistency.

Enough water to add to the batter for dropping consistency, keep aside

1 spoon sesame seeds to sprinkle on the surface before baking

Sieve the flour in a large bowl and the bicarbonate of soda. Add the stevia, walnuts (keeping 10 walnut halves aside to decorate the top), nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and salt. Give is a good stir to mix in the ingredients to an even consistency.

In a separate bowl place the eggs, tahini with honey (I use a shop-bought mix) orange liquor, fresh orange juice, vanilla extract, orange zest and sultanas. Use a hand-blender to make a purée.

Add the liquid mix into the dry ingredients and fold in using a large metal spoon. Add 2 spoons of water at a time until the mixture achieves a dropping consistency (a thick consistency that drops off the spoon).

Pour the batter into a 23cm spring-form cake dish with a film of non-stick baking spray. Sprinkle some sesame seeds on the surface and decorate with the walnut halves. Bake in a preheated oven at 170ºC for 35 minute. Check the center by piercing with a skewer. Brush the surface with teaspoon of warm honey.

Allow to cool before serving.

Chickpeanut dip

1/2 cup unsalted peanuts (soaked in water for 2 hours)
1/2 cup cooked or canned chickpeas
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon paprika
1 small garlic clove
1/4 cup water
Extra virgin olive oil (I am lucky to have oil pressed this week from olives in our garden)
Sea salt

After many years of living in the Middle East, I feel that the authentic hummus bi tahini is the only dip that qualifies to be called hummus; any other variations are not hummus and the addition of chickpeas to any other ingredients does not make it hummus.

But I do love to mix chickpeas in a variety of dips. They have the right consistency to bind other ingredients together without imparting an overbearingly strong flavour. My chickpeanut dip is a concoction with peanuts.

If you are using dried chickpeas, you need to soak them first. Place chickpeas in a large bowl and cover completely with cold water. Allow to soak overnight, for about 12 hours. A teaspoon of baking soda can be added to help soften them up without changing their nutritional value. Drain and transfer to a large cooking pot, cover with water twice the amount of chickpeas and bring to a boil. Cover and allow to simmer for approximately one hour. Do a taste test at this point to make sure they are tender enough for your liking. Once chickpeas are cooled they are ready to be used. Otherwise use canned chickpeas.

Drain the chickpeas and peanuts. Place all ingredients, with the exception of olive oil in a food processor and blend. I like to leave mine with bits in it, not completely smooth and with more texture. Season according to taste. Add some virgin olive oil until the consistency is right for you. Everyone has their own preferences and there is no right or wrong, just as you prefer. I do love the peanut flavour with the fresh vegetables. This is best served with traditional galletti (water-biscuits).

Roasted potatoes with tahini and sesame seeds

500g potatoes, skin on, partially cooked by chopping and boiling for 5 minutes
2 spoons tahini
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
4 spoons sesame seeds
Sea salt to season
2 spoons olive oil

Drain the cooked potatoes well. Prepare an ovenproof dish by brushing lightly with a spoon of olive oil. Mix the tahini with the other spoon of olive oil. Mix in the finely chopped garlic and dried oregano and toss the potatoes in the tahini mix. Spread the potatoes in over the baking sheet, season with sea salt and sprinkle the sesame seeds on top. Roast in the oven at 200ºC for half an hour.

You can watch Lea cook on TVM2 every weekday afternoon and follow her blog on www.goodfoodeveryday.wordpress.com.

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