Why Are Israelis So Obsessed With This Flavor Pairing?

Sweet date syrup and nutty tahini are the perfect match.

Silan (date honey) and tahini (sesame seed paste) are quintessential ingredients in the Israeli pantry. But until I lived in Tel Aviv, I had no idea that they were often paired together. Tahini and silan on toast was the go-to midday snack for many of my Israeli friends, a true sabra delicacy. They typically didn’t cut their tahini with lemon juice or water or any of the things you usually would when preparing it as a dip — it was drizzled straight from the jar, raw and thick. This allowed the tahini’s intense nuttiness to shine, and its slight bitterness was softened by the molasses-like sweetness of the date syrup.

On first taste, I crowned silan-tahini toast the perfect snack and, in the past year, have been delighted to see it pop up in Israeli restaurants around the US, like Philadelphia’s K’far Cafe. 

Though the flavor combination may seem strange at first, you’re probably more familiar with it than you think: Silan and tahini is basically a mature, Middle Eastern PB&J. Or, better yet, liquid halva.

As with all simple dishes, the better the ingredients, the better the taste. I’m a big fan of New York-based Seed and Mill’s tahini, and the Date Lady’s silan. A reliable sign of a good product is few ingredients — particularly with silan, where dates should be the only ingredient. And while my Israeli friends were happy with any old loaf, I think fresh, crusty white bread really takes this snack up a notch.

If this snack sounds a bit too weird, there are many other ways to play with the flavor pairing. Tahini and silan drizzled over vanilla ice cream and topped with pistachios is delectable.

In Israel, though, the pairing is more often used in savory dishes. Char-grilled eggplant, where the eggplant is cooked directly on a burner until the skin is charred and the flesh inside is soft, is elevated with the tahini-silan treatment. Top with equal parts of both, then add pomegranate seeds or chopped parsley for freshness.

Really, any roasted root or hearty vegetable would benefit from a drizzle of the two — date syrup has a soft sweetness that enhances any natural flavors, rather than overtakes them, which is why I much prefer it to honey when glazing veggies. The pairing also makes a great vinaigrette.

You really can’t go wrong with this nutty-sweet combo — at The Nosher, we even put it on our latkes — so get creative!

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