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As I was making the post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich, using the one small jar of mayo that I have bought since I arrived in Israel many months ago, it occurred to me that my mayonnaise consumption had radically reduced in the last five months. And I had barely noticed.
You can find mayonnaise in this country. It’s for sale at all major grocery stores. At Burger’s Bar, a well-known burger chain throughout Israel, one of the great appeals is all the sauces you can put on your burger, and garlic mayo and thousand island dressing are popular amongst them. When you sit down at a classic grill restaurant and there are a variety of small salads put down in front of you, there is frequently one salad involving mayo, although it is never my favorite.
Surely something must be replacing this in my diet and it didn’t take me long to figure out that what had replaced mayonnaise as a spread on sandwiches, or in a salad dressing, and yes even in cakes and on bread in the morning, was tehina.
Tehina is made from ground sesame seeds and has a slightly nutty, sweet taste with a consistency akin to almond or sunflower butter. Generally when you use tehina in it’s raw form you will need to add water to thin it. You’re looking for a consistency that is somewhat akin to a heavy dressing. You want to be able to scoop it up with some bread but not have it be too runny.
The most classic use of tehina is hummus with tehina, which gives much of the hummus in Israel a very creamy consistency, but I’ve found several other favorite uses that I regularly enjoy and would encourage you to try:
Green Tehina – Green tehina is a mixture of tehina with herbs such as parsley, cilantro, and mint. Some lemon juice, salt and pepper will generally finish this off nicely. Add garlic if you want it. In Israel, Green Tehina is sold by the container in grocery stores, but it is extremely easy to make and I find the use of fresh herbs really makes a difference. Green tehina can be served atop hummus, mixed with a chopped salad of cucumbers and tomatoes, or served as a stand-alone for dipping pita or other bread.
1 cup tehina paste
1/3 bunch each – parsley, cilantro, mint
1-2 cloves garlic
¼ cup (approximately) water
salt and pepper.
1. Thin the tehina with water till it is a creamy consistency.
2. Wash and dry the herbs and remove the stems.
3. Chop and add to the tehina along with the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.
Tehina with Silan – This one is simple but good. Spoon some tehina into a small bowl or dish (approximately ¼ cup) and thin with water till you get a creamy consistency. Put an equal amount of silan (date honey) into the middle and stir slightly till combined but not thoroughly mixed. Scoop up with left-over challah or other good bread for breakfast time or whenever you need a quick pick-me-up. You can also do this with regular honey if silan is not available.
Cabbage Salad with Asian Tahini Dressing – This recipe has been a regular at my Shabbat table since I first tried it about two months ago and it’s a crowd pleaser. In this case, the tehina is paired with several other Asian ingredients, giving it a creamy and sweet consistency. I’ve been using it as part of a salad course, replacing a mayo-based coleslaw, but it could easily be served as an accompaniment to a meal. The recipe comes from Janna Gur, who is the founder of Al HaShulchan, Israel’s major gourmet magazine and she has recently wrote a book called The New Israeli Cuisine, which has quickly become one of my favorites. Her website is terrific and I’ve included the link to this recipe here. http://www.jannagur.com/108704/Cabbage-Salad-in-Asian-Tahini-Dressing
Carrot Cake – Yes, I said Carrot Cake. The addition of tehina to this recipe makes this cake super moist and dense. No one will ever know that there is tehina inside, which is a good thing because if I had told my husband that before he ate the cake, he never would have tried it. Instead it got rave reviews! I found this recipe in the book Sweet Secrets by Carine Goren, one of the best selling dessert cookbooks in Israel which has recently been published in English. Ironically Goren first found this recipe on an American website.
1½ cups dark brown sugar, packed
¾ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup tahini
½ cup flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
5 medium-sized carrots (2 ½ cups) coarsely grated
1½ cups walnuts, roughly chopped
½ cup sesame seeds to decorate
2 loaf pans
1. Preheat the oven to 320 degrees F.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the brown sugar, oil and eggs to an even mixture. Mix in the tahini paste.
3. Add both kinds of flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and allspice. Mix only until combined and lump-free.
4. Fold in the grated carrots and walnuts.
5. Oil the baking pans and place a handful of sesame seeds (approx 2 tablespoons) in each pan. Tilt the pan until it is evenly covered with sesame seeds. Pour the batter ¾ of the way up the sides of the pan. If you desire, sprinkle a generous amount of sesame seeds on top.
6. Bake for about 45 minutes until the cakes are fragrant, spring back to the touch, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean (with moist crumbs.)