Tahini, made from ground sesame seeds, is nutrient-rich, and used in many Greek and Cypriot dishes both sweet and savory. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, tahini may help lower bad cholesterol levels and therefore reduce the risk of heart disease and strokes. It also contains some protein, fiber and many nutrients, such as iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and some B vitamins as well. The high amounts of magnesium and phosphorus may help reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis. Though relatively high in calories and fat, tahini contains healthier, unsaturated fat and antioxidants which may help reduce the risk of certain cancers. As with all things, moderation is the key.
Homemade tahini is also a simple two-ingredient recipe, 2 cups toasted sesame seeds and 2-4 tablespoons olive oil, ground together in a food processor until smooth, will make 1 cup of tahini. The following recipe for Cypriot tahinopita, a delicious sweet usually enjoyed during Great Lent, but just as tasty throughout the year, uses store-bought tahini to save time.
For the dough:
8 cups plus 4 tablespoons unbleached, all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon rapid-rise yeast
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
A pinch of ground mastic
A pinch of ground machleb
3 cups water, or as much as needed
For the filling:
2 lbs. tahini paste
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 cups sugar
To make the dough, in a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, yeast, sugar, cinnamon, mastic, and machleb. Add the water gradually as much as needed, you may need less than the 3 cups, depending on weather conditions and humidity, and knead until the dough comes together. Continue kneading until the dough is shiny. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes to rise.
To make the filling, in a large mixing bowl, whisk together the tahini paste and the cinnamon, mixing well to combine. Add the sugar and whisk well since the mixture will be stiff. Set aside.
To assemble the tahinopites, divide the risen dough into 13 pieces and shape each piece into a ball. While working on one dough ball at a time, cover the remaining dough balls with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to form a rectangle 5 inches by 12 inches, spread with 2 tablespoons of the filling, leaving 1/2 inch border around the edges of the rolled out dough. Fold the long side of the dough over the center covering 2/3 of the dough, then fold the other long side over the remaining 1/3 of the dough. Stretch the folded dough slightly, then fold in half lengthwise and shape into a long roll about 32 inches long. Take the two ends and swirl them to form a rope shape, roll the two ends in opposite directions to form two snail shell shapes. Place one snail shape over the other and press together to form the classic tahinopita shape. Set aside on a lightly floured tray, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rise. Continue with the remaining dough and filling. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Once the tahinopites have risen, place on a lightly oiled baking sheet, and bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown, rotating the pan halfway through the baking process. Place the freshly baked tahinopites on wire racks to cool completely before serving. Store any leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature or refrigerate if preferred.