First world problems: When your favourite tahini suddenly disappears.
Turkey is surely one of the best countries in the world for cooking. The freshness and flavour of ingredients and the care and knowledge of those who sell them never cease to amaze me. However, as with anything, there are exceptions.
It took me a long time to find good tahini in Turkey. Perhaps I had been spoilt buying tahini from ethnic shops serving the large Middle Eastern communities in London. I certainly didn’t appreciate how different tahini and tahini really can be until I came here and quickly realised that the big brand tahinis of Turkey weren’t up to scratch. Not only did they lack in flavour. The texture wasn’t quite right and it split very easily. It only took a few days for a thick layer of translucent oil to appear on top and at the bottom, a mass so hard it was difficult to stir everything up again – something I’ve later learned is a sure sign of low quality tahini.
Assistance came from an unexpected place. At the beginning of this year, I finally purchased the brilliant cookbook from Honey & Co, the London restaurant specialising in modern Middle Eastern fare. The couple behind both book and restaurant are Israeli, so it comes as no surprise tahini features prominently in their cooking. What was more surprising was their revelation the best tahini they ever tasted was Turkish – a brand called Altan Manisalı. I had to find this tahini.
And they were of course right. This tahini is heavenly. Full of delicious nutty flavour and not too bitter, as some tahinis can be. And it barely separates, even if it’s been sitting on the kitchen shelf for weeks. It’s so good I never buy just one jar. It’s a perfect small gift for friends and family, so it’s handy to keep around.
Altan Manisalı is a small-scale producer of tahini, pekmez and related produce. They’ve been around since 1885 but are keeping it small scale – what appears to be their sole shop is in İzmir on the Turkish west coast. In Istanbul, it can be found in the Namlı Gurme delis in Karaköy and Hasırcılar Caddesi off the Spice Market in Eminönü. Except for the last few weeks, it couldn’t.
I was out of tahini and of course immediately asked if they had any, as I couldn’t find it in its usual place. –Out of stock, they said. –But you’ll get more? I asked, a little nervous about the answer. –Of course, brother. Phew.
But they days turned to a week and then weeks and still no tahini in a glass jar with a golden orange label and retro fonts. Instead, other brands started appearing. I started settling for having to find a new go-to brand, perfectly well knowing it would be unlikely to match the tahini I had come to love.
And then, on Sunday I happened to walk past Namlı Gurme and popped in for a quick look, not really expecting anything. And there it was. Fresh out of the factory – the date of production was a mere week earlier. I guess they couldn’t keep up with demand and simply ran out of stock to ship to Istanbul for a while. So it was a happy Norwegian who crossed the Galata Bridge and walked home to Balat with a small bag in hand Sunday evening.
With fresh tahini in the house, it of course had to be utilised to its utmost. And what could possibly be better than tahini cookies as we are at less than three weeks until Christmas?
In fact, as I’m not that much of a sweet goods baker I’m not entirely sure they qualify as cookies. The texture is more like Scottish shortbread – crumbly and buttery. But the flavour. Oh my, the flavour!
The nutty, slightly bitter tones from the tahini adds a rich depth to the cookies, making them neither too sweet nor too heavy. In fact, I’d say they’re the perfect Christmas cookies, if perhaps a little untraditional. They’re perfect with a cup of tea or coffee.
The cookies can be varied according to taste and what you have lying around. Keep them plain (they’re delicious as is) or pimp them with some nuts or dried berries. I split my dough into three and make a little of each. Yields 24 cookies.
- 375 g white flour
- 125 g sugar
- 2 tsp (8 g) baking powder
- 200 g butter, melted
- 225 g tahini
- nuts or dried fruit (optional)
Preheat the oven to 180 C. Cover two baking sheets with baking parchment.
- Mix the dried ingredients. Add the butter and tahini mix well. For adding nuts or fruit, see tips below.
- Split the dough into about 24 equal-size pieces, roll to little balls and flatten to 1 cm thick cookies on the baking sheet. I do this by splitting the dough into three, then rolling each of them into a thick sausage. I then split each sausage into 8 pieces which I roll into little balls. I can fit 12 cookies (4×3) on each baking sheet. The cookies won’t change shape much during cooking, but make sure to leave sufficient distance between them.
- Roast in the middle of the oven until cooked through, 12-15 minutes. They don’t change colour much so it’s a little difficult to know exactly when they are done, but fortunately it doesn’t matter much if they’re a little over or under. The cookies are fragile when cooked, so leave for a few minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
- If you’d like to add the same nuts/fruits to all of your cookies, add them with the butter and tahini in step 2.
- If you’d like to add nuts or fruit to only some of your cookies, incorporate after splitting the dough into three parts (but before rolling into individual balls) in step 3.
- For the cookies on the pictures, I kept 1/3 of the cookies plain, added 40 g roughly chopped pistacchios to 1/3 and 20 g each of dried cranberry and dried apricot to the last 1/3.