Tahini is a remarkably versatile ingredient. Its rich, nutty flavor adds unique character to everything from cookies to roasted veggies, raw veggie salads and simmer sauces.
It’s not uncommon to find meatballs or fish fillets simmered in tahini when dining in Israel.
For tahini newbies, be patient when you’re mixing tahini with water and lemon. Go for the right texture first, adding more water and lemon until the sauce is pourable. The paste will turn from beige to whitish, letting you know that you are heading in the right direction. Season with fresh minced garlic and whichever green herb you like best.
This tahini sauce can be stored in a sealed container for three to four days in the refrigerator. Add more water or lemon juice if it thickens up.
To avoid having the sauce seize up, I’ve cooked these meatballs on the stovetop and layered them with tahini in an oven-to-table casserole. Stick the casserole under the broiler just long enough to relax the tomatoes and reheat the meatballs. Be sure to garnish generously, as this dish needs a pop of color to brighten the creamy sauce.
2 pounds chopped beef or combination of beef and veal or beef and lamb
2 eggs, whisked
1 medium onion, minced or grated
1/2 cup fresh parsley, stems removed and chopped (reserve 1 tablespoon for garnish)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt
6-8 twists of black pepper (ground)
8 cloves garlic, minced (reserve 1 teaspoon for tehina; see recipe below)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes or chopped tomato
3 tablespoons canola oil (for frying)
1-1/2 cups tahini paste
4 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed (save some zest for garnish)
1 cup cold water
1 tablespoon (reserved) fresh garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Garnish for serving
First, make the meatballs: Place chopped beef in a large bowl. Add grated onion, eggs, parsley, garlic, all dried seasonings and breadcrumbs. Mix meat gently until well integrated; do not over-mix. (Grated onion integrates better into meatballs than chopped onion. Be sure to use the juice that collects when grating, as the extra liquid helps to keep meatballs soft.)
Form into meatballs, rolling between your palms and dampening your hands if the meat sticks. Flatten meatballs with the back of a tablespoon to facilitate more even cooking.
Heat oil to medium-high in large cast iron or nonstick pan. Fry meatballs 3 to 4 minutes or until lightly browned. Turn and brown other side. Do not crowd meatballs in pan. Fry in 2-3 batches as needed. Remove meatballs to a paper towel-lined plate.
Next, make the tahini sauce: Whisk all the ingredients together in a large bowl until well blended. The texture should be very loose, almost watery.
Next, preheat the broiler.
In an ovenproof casserole (Pyrex 10-by-16 or 2 casseroles), pour 1 cup blended tahini into bottom of pan (or pans) and nestle meatballs into pans. Meatballs should be in one layer. Pour remaining tahini over the meatballs. Place chopped tomatoes on top of the meatballs and scatter into the tahini (this doesn’t have to be perfect). Place under broiler for 3-4 minutes until tomatoes begin to sizzle.
Serve meatballs directly from the oven sprinkled with remaining parsley and lemon zest.
Serving suggestions: Tahini will turn a bit golden and appear thickened after being exposed to the broiler. Fear not! Once you spoon the sauce, it will be deliciously runny. Serve these meatballs over brown rice or couscous and enjoy the broiled tomatoes. For a complete meal, serve with chopped Israeli style salad or wok your favorite green veggie (broccoli, bok choy or spinach) and serve alongside these delicious meatballs.
Liz Rueven’s blog, Kosher Like Me, features restaurant and product reviews, tips on events where like-minded eaters like her can actually eat, and news about folks in the food world.