A (wishful) ode to springtime produce
As I write this, the proposed high today is 70°F. For context, it's February, and needless to say I'm ready for spring. My pale skin is basically crying for some vitamin D.
While we may have a while to go before spring has actually "sprung", we can channel some of that wishful thinking into what we eat, right?
Inspired by a recent takeout meal from a middle eastern restaurant in Atlanta, Aziza, I set out to make a dish that highlighted a beautifully herbaceous green tahini sauce. But we before we can do that, it's important to try to understand where tahini comes from and its importance within a multitude of cultures. So let's dive in, shall we?
Tahini, derived from the Arabic word "to grind", is a sesame seed paste that dates back several hundred (if not thousands) of years ago. In fact, it has even been dated back to ancient cuneiforms, and more recently 13th century Arabic cookbooks. Sesame seeds appear to have originated from regions of India, where the genetic biodiversity of flora was/is rich and varied. Though grown in several regions, one notable area of sesame cultivation is located in Ethiopia, where they are referred to as humera seeds.
Tahini is commonly used in Levantine cuisines (which comprises countries including Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Palestine, Syria, and Israel) as well as Mediterranean areas including Greece and the eastern coast of Libya. Tahini is also found in Armenian, Indian, Iraqi, and East Asian Cuisine, demonstrating the interconnectedness of the spice trade. Tahini is traditionally used as a condiment and as an ingredient in different dips (perhaps most famously hummus and baba ghanoush). Like many dishes with shared cultural links, tahini can sometimes spark debate over which country has claim over it, which touches on larger themes of patriotism and identity in a quickly changing world.
I hope that prompted some food for thought (I'm sorry in advance for that pun). I also hope now that this history illuminated the roots of this ingredient and its relevancy today in different cultures and cuisines. As far as this particular recipe, the green tahini sauce isn't authentic to any one cuisine (though it certainly has middle eastern influence), as I used what I had on hand.
Further notes: If you are in a household of 1 or 2, this recipe could be a great meal prep option to make at the beginning of the week and have leftovers of. The sauce should stay good for at least 7-10 days in the refrigerator.
Ok, onto the recipe!
Herby Quinoa Bowl with Green Tahini Sauce
(Serves 4-5 people)
-3 medium sized chicken breasts
-2/3 cup parsley
-juice and zest of 1 lemon
-2 cloves of garlic
-2 tsp salt
-1/4 tsp red pepper
-black pepper to taste
-1 cup olive oil
-2 green onions
-1 cup quinoa, rinsed
-2 cups water or stock
-1/2 tsp salt
-1 head red leaf lettuce, cleaned and chopped
-2 Persian cucumbers (or 1/2 of a European cucumber), sliced
-1 bunch of radishes, sliced
-1/2 head of fennel, sliced
-1/4 c ricotta salata or feta, cubed or crumbled
-mint, to top
Green tahini sauce:
-1 cup tahini
-1 cup water
-1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
-1/2 bunch of parsley
-1/4 cup basil
-1/4 tsp sumac
-1/4 tsp za’atar
-salt to taste
-black pepper to taste
Add the ingredients for the marinade to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Place the chicken into a bowl or large ziplock bag and cover/coat with the marinade. Let sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to an hour. Light your grill or heat your grill pan over medium/high heat for about 3-5 minutes. Place your chicken onto the grill and cook for about 7-8 minutes per side (depending on the thickness of your chicken breast) or until the internal temperature reads 165°F. While the chicken is cooking, add the water or stock to a medium pot, cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the quinoa and the salt and lower the heat to low/simmer. Cover and let cook for about 15-20 minutes until the quinoa is cooked through and tender. To make the green tahini sauce, add the tahini, water, apple cider vinegar, parsley, basil, sumac, za’atar, and black pepper to a blender and blend until smooth. To compose your meal, add a handful of lettuce, a few cucumber slices, some radish, some fennel, some ricotta salata, a spoonful of quinoa and some slices of the grilled chicken to a plate or bowl and drizzle with the green tahini sauce. Optionally add some mint slices as garnish. Serve and enjoy!
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