Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Big Tahini Hunt

Butterbean hummus and crudites by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
 Remember the Berenstain Bears' book "The Big Honey Hunt?" Somewhere in my stack of childhood books lies the vintage tale of Papa Bear and Brother Bear in search of honey. I needed the bears this week when I went in search of tahini, the used-to-be uncommon, now flat-out difficult-to-find ingredient essential to making the perfect hummus.

Tahini is simply ground sesame seeds, similar in texture to natural peanut butter, with a quicksand-like bottom and slick of oil on top. Tahini is what gives hummus its characteristic sesame taste and smooth as butter texture. I fuss and moan about my suburban grocery stores, and wonder why they put peanut butter and jelly next to the bread instead of the aisle with pickles, but I've always managed to find tahini when on the organics aisle when I needed it. Until now. A check of local supermarkets turned up nary a jar of the sesame paste.

And so I arranged for a side trip to Trader Joe's on my latest excursion into Atlanta, feeling certain that TJ's, with its pink sea salt and sunflower seed butter, would have a jar of tahini to spare. Except I couldn't find it. I wandered up and down the aisles twice before asking the earnest young man shelving vinegars, and he said, to my astonishment, that nobody has tahini. Nobody can get it. Something about a sesame seed shortage and don't even bother going to Whole Foods and Kroger and Publix, because they can't get it either.

Wow! I should tell them about Publix at Ansley Mall, my next stop, because right there, in the organics section, two kinds of tahini, Krinos and Joyva. I bought the can of Joyva and joyfully came home with my prize, ready to make butterbean hummus, a signature recipe of Watershed Restaurant. The thing about butterbean hummus is that it's made with lima beans, not the smaller pearl-y ovals that I consider butterbeans. I departed from the directive and used baby limas and I cut the recipe in half, because goodness knows, the original recipe will serve two parties of stevedores, with leftovers. The recipe is delicious, by the way. It is incomparably smooth, the silkiest hummus ever.

Butterbean, (or for authenticity's sake), Baby Lima Bean Hummus

adapted from Chef Scott Peacock's recipe on Food Network

1/2 pound dried baby lima beans

3 cloves garlic, peeled

1/3 cup tahini

1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, beginning with the smaller amount then tasting before adding more

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 to 1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Spread the beans on a rimmed baking sheet and pick through. Rinse them and place in a pot and add cold water to cover by two inches. Bring to a boil and simmer until they are tender. Remove from the heat and let cool. Drain, but be sure to reserve the cooking liquid.

2. In a food processor, place beans and puree until smooth. Add garlic and tahini and puree again. Gradually add oil and process until mixture is close to the desired texture. Add lemon juice and process, then reserved cooking liquid, a little at a time, until desired consistency. Season to taste.

3. Serve with crudites such as carrot sticks, celery sticks, sliced radishes and cucumbers.

Text and images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer.


Grace @ HapaMama said...

I can't believe you went to such lengths to find tahini. My hummus-making friend says he just uses an equivalent amount of sesame seeds from the bulk food bin and throws it into the food processor. I haven't tried this yet, but his homemade hummus is delicious!

LBMahana said...

Where to find Tahini
1.Leon's International on Pleasantdale, first exit off 285 going North-one block down.
Tahini and everything else you could ever want that is Middle Eastern.
2.Mediterranean Bakery on Chamblee Tucker. Tahini and great falafel and good menu.
3.Scheherazade on Roswell Road
4.Buford Highway Farmers Market

First three are Middle Eastern stores and have everything needed for a relative feast.

Bellwether Vance said...

I had the exact same experience this week -- and found it at Publix (both brands) after a clerk and I wandered three aisles looking for it because they're always moving it around, from ethnic to condiments to Greenwise. I'm really wanting to try this butterbean (yeah, lima bean) hummus. My husband prefers it smooth, and I prefer it more rustic, but I might like a silky texture if I used a different legume.