I have always been a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food fan. Maybe it's that hummus was a staple growing up. In his youthful hippie days (or should I say daze), my Dad wanted to move to Israel and live on a kibbutz. Unfortunately my grandparents nixed that idea, leaving my father to live vicariously through consuming copious amounts of tabbouleh, babaganoush, and hummus instead. Hey, it worked out for me and I should thank my parents for the early introduction to ethnic cuisine. That being said, I was definitely the odd kid in Oxnard, CA who ate "weird white paste on pocket bread".
A primary ingredient in hummus and in Middle Eastern cooking in general is sesame. Sesame oil, sesame seeds, sesame paste or tahini, the little seed is found everywhere. When I stopped eating dairy about 6 years ago tahini became my go-to food. It's thick, creamy texture is an ideal substitute for regular cream, sour cream, and cream cheese.
So, last week Gray and I both had a craving for tahini sauce. A favorite winter dish in our house is sweet potatoes baked in tahini so I decided to play around with a summer version. Using seasonal zucchini, I thought to layer it up between hefty dollops of savory tahini sauce and fresh herbs. WOW! Now, I know something is good when Gray can only get a few words out after tasting it. His first word after the initial bite was, "Amazing!" Second word after his next bite, "Unbelievable!" Needless to say, we've got a new favorite summer dish. Feel free to use any fresh herbs you like. I used cilantro and mint but fresh parsley and basil would be stellar too. You could also substitute eggplant for the zucchini. Just be sure to let the slices drain a bit on a paper towel after your saute them. Enjoy!
Zucchini Tahini Gratin
3 large zucchini, ends trimmed and cut vertically into 1/4 inch pieces
4 tsp. ghee, divided (you could also use olive oil, though it doesn't crisp up as nicely)
a little less than 1/2 cup of tahini
zest of one lemon
2 tbs. fresh lemon juice
4 tbs. water
1 large yellow onion, cut into half moons
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup mint, chopped
sea salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and get out an 8 in. round baking dish with a lid (I used my Le Cruset but any equivalent round or square dish will do)
Heat 2 tsp. of ghee in a large saute pan or skillet. Place zucchini slices into the pan and sprinkle with sea salt. Cook on each side for about 5 minutes or until they are nicely golden brown. Once the zucchini is done cooking, place the slices on a paper towel to soak up any added moisture. (This will make sure the gratin is not too watery.)
While the zucchini is browning, make the tahini sauce. Whisk together tahini, lemon zest and juice, and a touch of salt. Add water to thin the mixture. You want the sauce to resemble a thick Ranch dressing. Not too thin or too thick. Keep adding water until you reach the desired consistency.
Once the zucchini is done, using the same pan, heat 2 tsp. of ghee and toss in your chopped onions. Cook for about 10-12 minutes or until they've started to caramelized.
Now it's time to assemble. Cover the bottom of the baking dish with zucchini. Make surethe slices are packed tight so as not to see the bottom of the dish. Now add a thin layer of onions, a few tablespoons of herbs, and a thin layer of tahini sauce. Continue with another layer of zucchini, then onions, herbs, and sauce. Continue layering until all ingredients are gone. You want to finish with a last drizzle of tahini sauce.
Cover and bake for about 15 minutes. Let it sit for 5 minutes to let the gratin settle. Serve with a little extra tahini sauce on the side, just in case. Enjoy!