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. 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 white-ish, 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 3-4 days in the refrigerator. Add more water or lemon juice if it thickens up.
It’s not uncommon to find meatballs or fish fillets simmered in tahini when dining in Israel. 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.
A note about this recipe: The 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.
For the meatballs:
- 2 lbs chopped beef or combination of beef and lamb
- 2 eggs, whisked
- 1 medium onion, minced or grated*
- ½ cup fresh parsley, stems removed and chopped. Reserve 1 Tbsp for garnish.
- 1 tsp cumin
- ¼ tsp allspice
- 1 tsp salt
- 6-8 twists of black pepper (ground)
- 8 cloves garlic, minced. Reserve 1 tsp for tahini sauce (see recipe below).
- ½ cups bread crumbs
- 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes or chopped tomato
- 3 Tbsp canola oil (for frying)
For the tahini sauce:
- 1 ½ cups tahini
- 4 Tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed (save some zest for garnish)
- 1 cup cold water
- 1 Tbsp (reserved) fresh garlic
- Salt and pepper to taste
- First, make the meatballs. Place chopped beef in a large bowl. Add grated onion, eggs, parsley, garlic, all dried seasonings and bread crumbs. 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.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 back of a tablespoon to facilitate more even cooking.
- Heat oil to medium/high in large cast iron or nonstick pan.
- Fry meatballs 3-4 minutes or until lightly browned. Turn and brown second 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 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 10×16 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 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 some lemon zest (if desired).