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Beyond hummus: Tahini adds umami oomph to these vegetarian dishes

Addie Broyles
Austin 360
These spiced sweet potatoes are topped with chickpeas and a tahini sauce.

Tahini has been around for thousands of years.

The paste made with sesame seeds is a key ingredient throughout North Africa and the Middle East, where it appears in everything from hummus and baba ghanoush to the dessert called halva. Sesame seeds (and sesame-based oils and pastes) are also common in both sweet and savory dishes in Asian countries, including Japan, India and China.

More:With a swirl of tahini, these brownies will put stars in your eyes

Cracking the code on out-of-this-world hummus, homemade pita

Americans can buy high-end, freshly made tahini in places like New York City, but many of us are still stirring up the jars we find at international markets. Tahini, sadly, isn't available at every supermarket just yet, but it's worth adding a jar to your pantry so you can make out-of-this-world hummus, brownies and a plethora of hearty, flavor-filled meals.

Tahini is so versatile because of its rich flavor — like peanut butter, but not too sweet — and its texture, which is thick enough to add body and umami to any sauce or dressing. Like peanut butter and any other nut- (or seed-) based ingredient, tahini can go rancid if you leave it in the cupboard for too long. You can store it in the fridge, but the refrigeration makes it difficult to stir, which means you're less likely to use it. These nutrient-dense dishes will give you a few ideas for how to use tahini in your cooking if you aren't already. 

This lentil power bowl gets a boost of flavor and protein from tahini, which is made from sesame seeds.

Spiced Tahini Loaded Sweet Potato

Sumac is a Middle Eastern spice with a tangy lemony flavor. You may know tahini — a condiment made from toasted ground sesame — from hummus, baba ghanoush or halva. The tahini in this recipe replaces butter and sour cream for a nutritious version of the traditional baked potato. Plus, sweet potatoes have more vitamin A and vitamin C and potassium than white potatoes.

— BuzzFeed editors

For the sweet potato: 

1 medium sweet potato

8 ounces (1/2 can) can no-salt-added chickpeas, drained

2 teaspoons avocado oil or cooking oil of choice 1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground sumac

For the tahini dressing: 

1/4 cup tahini (about 2 ounces)

Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

For the toppings: 

2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

2 tablespoons roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley 4 mint leaves, hand-torn

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet. Cut the potato in half lengthwise and add to the baking sheet along with the chickpeas. Drizzle with oil and season with salt, rubbing to ensure even coverage.

Turn the potato halves flesh-side down and roast until the potatoes are tender and the chickpeas are crispy, 25 to 30 minutes, stirring the chickpeas once halfway through.

In a small bowl, mix together the dressing ingredients. It should be similar to the consistency of ranch dressing. Stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons of water if needed.

Remove the baking sheet from oven. Place the sweet potato halves flesh-side up on a plate. Sprinkle the chickpeas with the pepper, cumin and sumac. Toss to coat. Set aside.

Scoop the flesh out of the potato halves into a small bowl. Mix half of the tahini dressing with the flesh of the sweet potato, then use a fork to mash the potato until smooth. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Spoon the seasoned potato flesh back into the skins.

Top with half the spiced chickpeas, the pomegranate seeds, parsley and mint. Drizzle with extra dressing, if desired. Save half the roasted chickpeas in an airtight container for a spicy weekday snack.

— From "The Goodful Cookbook: Simple and Balanced Recipes to Live Well" by BuzzFeed Inc. (Rodale, $29.99)

Lentil Veggie Power Bowl

Nutritionist Haylie Pomroy's newest book, "Cooking for a Fast Metabolism: Eat More Food and Lose More Weight," includes dozens of health-conscious recipes that are packed with flavor and nutrients. Pomroy uses tahini here to add oomph to the dressing, which you could serve on any salad, grilled vegetables or meats.

— Addie Broyles

1 cup dried lentils

3 cups vegetable broth or chicken broth

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium red onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

2 packed cups baby spinach, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, minced

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the lemon-tahini dressing: 

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons tahini

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

6 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions, for serving

Rinse the lentils in a strainer and put them in a medium sauce-pan. Add the broth. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Immediately lower the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked through but still chewy. Drain them in a strainer, then put them in a large bowl.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 2 minutes more. Add the bell pepper and sauté for 8 minutes more. Stir in the tomatoes, then transfer the vegetable mixture to the bowl with the lentils. While the mixture is still hot, add the spinach, parsley, salt, and black pepper and toss to combine everything.

Make the dressing: In a blender, combine all the ingredients for the dressing and blend until smooth. Drizzle the dressing over the lentil mixture. Toss to coat everything in the dressing. Top with the scallions and serve warm or cold. Serves 6.

— From "Cooking for a Fast Metabolism: Eat More Food and Lose More Weight" by Haylie Pomroy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28)

Addie Broyles writes about food and cooking for the Austin American-Statesman. You can follow her on Instagram at @broylesa or reach out at abroyles@statesman.com