Tahini – A Valuable Member The Turkish Table

When we moved to Turkey in 2003, we were introduced to a whole new world of unfamiliar ingredients and we soon realised our new life in Fethiye would be much easier if we learned all about them.

One of these ingredients was (and still is, of course) a thick, beige, emulsion-type paste that we would see all the time on the shelves of shops in supermarkets. A murky, brown gloop sitting in the bottom of jars and stumpy, plastic bottles with an inch or so of oil resting on top.

What on earth was this? Well, on the labels, it said ‘Tahin.’

In Turkey, that’s what’s written on the label and that’s what it’s called as far as we’re concerned. The joy of language – something is given a label and that’s what it becomes.

We’ve since found out from our English foodie-interested friends in the UK that this paste is in fact tahini – if English is your language that is. And while English is our language, for us, tahin is tahin. And if Turkish cuisine is your interest, you need to make yourself familiar with tahin (sesame paste). It pops up everywhere.

The Joy of Tahin

The first time we came across tahin (tahini) in a dish was when we had Antalya Usulü Piyaz in a tiny lokanta in Korkuteli, on the road to Kaleiçi in Antalya.

Of course, we didn’t know it was tahin at the time, but when you’re staring down at a bowl of white beans and pieces of hard boiled egg floating in a gloopy, white sauce, the discovery of tahin is the last thing on your mind. (Don’t worry. Click the link above and you’ll see we immediately came to adore piyaz!)

Tahini And Pekmez Dip

Tahini and pekmez are mixed together to create a breakfast dip

The only other time we’ve felt the need to buy a bottle of tahin is when we’re following our Turkish recipe for hummus, usually when we’re doing a barbecue for friends in summer.

And the reason we’re mentioning this is, these days, when you go into the supermarkets in Fethiye, plastic bottles of tahin are very often sold in a twin pack; a bottle of tahin and a bottle of pekmez (grape molasses) bound together with tape.

Yes it did make us wonder why these two gloopy goods were sold together in Turkish supermarkets…but only in as much as it made us think, “Why are these two together when all we need is the tahin? What are we going to do with a bottle of pekmez?”

Turkish Breakfast Dip

And then we went to Kayaköy last Sunday for a Turkish village breakfast with friends. Various plates of goodies were placed on the table (as is the norm) and amongst these was a plate of tahin and a plate of pekmez.

No sooner were they put down than hands reached for the plates and the pekmez was poured into the tahin and the mixture stirred rigorously (see photo above).

THAT’S why these two are sold together in supermarkets. Dip your fresh, still-warm breakfast bread into that mixture, pop it into your mouth and savour! A perfect Turkish breakfast dip!

Turkish Katmer With Tahini

Tahini and börek are a perfect match in this katmer

And, if that wasn’t enough, at the same breakfast sitting, it appeared our friends wanted to prolong the day by playing Okey and Tavla (backgammon) with a source of nibbles to keep them going.

We might have been completely full, but this was labelled as ‘dessert’ – and ‘dessert’ was a rather hefty tahinli böreği. It doesn’t matter how long you live in a country, there is always something new to learn…

Turkish Breakfast ‘Dessert’

…and tahinli böreği was most definitely a new one on us. No complaints here, though. However full you are, if you ever get the chance to sample this, don’t refuse.

It’s sweet, it’s savoury, it’s exactly what you don’t need when you’ve just eaten your way through a köy kahvaltısı – but layers of börek, separated by a thin spread of tahin, just yes!

We got through a few of these between us throughout the day.

We’ve mentioned four different uses for tahin (tahini) in this post. Do you know of any more recipes that require tahin?

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  1. i am going out tomorrow to try to find grape molasses! thanks for the recipes. i am going to make the bean salad for sure!

  2. @ Jaz: Piyaz is the best salad ever – or do we prefer kisir? 🙂 The bean salad (piyaz) goes really well wtih kofte! 🙂

  3. Sweet yumminess. Don’t refuse. Got it. =)

  4. @Belinda: Always good advice to follow when something is yummy! 🙂

  5. Tahin I love (nice on steamed broccoli) but I’ve never tried it with pekmez, it sounds totally yummy!

  6. @ Cally: We would never have though of putting them together and have never seen it done like this before but apparently it’s common. Really tasty. Tahin on steamed broccoli sounds interesting, too. Might try that. 🙂

  7. . . delectable stuff – love it!

  8. @ Alan: Lovely, isn’t it? Not too good for the diet though so we’re keeping it to small doses! 🙂

  9. My next destination is Instanbul, I was intrigued, I cant’ wait to taste.

  10. I just love menemen for my turkish breakfast….everywhere you go it’s a bit different,but always delicious!

  11. @ Francy R: Yes, definitely look out for it. It’s a lovely, rich taste.

    @ Kristina: Us too. If it tastes different all the time, you know it’s homemade. 🙂

  12. That is a new one for me. I have only used it for Hummus. Thanks!

  13. @ Lisa: Same with us. Tahin is for hummus and that’s it. Great to taste it used in other ways, especially for sweet things like this.

  14. I’m so happy to find this blog! I’ve been living in Turkey for 6 months and still carrying the warmest memories about the countrye – it’s so great to read about somebody’s everyday life in there 🙂

    by the way, I was also extremely surprised to find out that turkish people eat tahin and pekmez together, but when I tried I desperately fell in love with that flavor! 🙂

  15. @ Migle: n that case, welcome to our blog and glad you’re finding it enjoyable! 🙂 Yes, the tahin and pekmez together is certainly a discovery isn’t it. Hoping to pick your brains on some of the Lithuanian food we ate in Vilnius, too. 🙂

  16. I’ll be difinitely looking forward to that! It’s always very interesting to see what other people find enjoyable in Lithuania 😉

  17. @ Migle: We went out for a meal in Vilnius and I ordered a dumpling-type thing. It was like a dough in the shape of a torpedo and it had meat inside and then it was topped in a rich, creamy, onion sauce. I LOVED it. But we can’t remember what it was called or what was inside it?

    We travelled through a few countries in Eastern Europe a few years ago and Vilnius was our favourite city. 🙂

  18. If you are talking about a huge potato dumpling with meat inside, then it’s called cepelinas. It’s great that you liked it, because most of the foreigners don’t find it very attractive 🙂 After all, Lithuanian cuisine is very rich and heavy – a serious challenge for everyone who is not used to that kind of food 🙂

  19. @ Migle: YES, that’s the one! Thank you very much. I actually loved it. Our guidebook wrote about it and said if you wanted to try it, make sure you were hungry because like you said, it’s very rich and heavy. I waited all day to eat it. 🙂 We (actually, Barry) had pigs ears, too. Oh, and lots of Lithuanian beer! 😉

  20. But even in Lithuania not everybody knows that traditional version of Cepelinas is filled with curd cheese. That’s how I like it the most, and it’s not that heavy then. However, nowadays people mostly are making and eating it filled with ground meat (mostly pork).
    Also, I don’t know in which season you were here, but during the summer it’s really important to try cold brosch – the soup made with redbeets, milk, cucumbers and scallions. Some people add boild egg also, but I trully hate it that way 🙂
    And about the bear… since I’m not a lover, I really don’t have anything to say at this point. I hope you liked it, because the locals are very proud about it 😀

  21. @ Migle: Of COURSE we liked the beer!! 🙂 We found a great little bar and spent a bit of time there over the two days we were there. Would love to go back for longer as it wasn’t long enough. 🙂

  22. so, just let me know if you ever decide to come back 🙂

  23. @ Migle: We most definitely will. Thank you! We’ve been talking about it recently and both said we’d love to return to spend more time there. 🙂

  24. I don’t know any recipes but do know that almost anything is better in börek form 🙂

  25. @ Anil: Well isn’t it about time you learned some recipes? 🙂 Börek is just so lovely isn’t it?! We’ve found out recently that what we actually ate that day was katmer. Why our friends didn’t know this, we do not know! 🙂

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