We’re going back to basics this week with a recipe for Tahini Dressing! It has a blend of lemon, garlic and pure sesame tahini in it which means it’s a classic and versatile salad dressing you can use to pour over a salad of simple greens or add it to compliment a healthy buddha bowl. Mixing it together takes less than five minutes and the results are rich and creamy tasting with a balance of bright citrus acidity and earthy toasty sesame flavor.

Tahini Dressing with Lemon- pour it over greens with radishes

If you’ve been a reader here for a while, you probably know that I  have a “thing” for homemade salad dressings. I have more than twenty salad dressings here on my site, and there are even more in my cookbook too. “Obsessed” is not too strong of a word perhaps. One may say fanatical even. 

It’s just that I think homemade dressings are so easy to make, more affordable than store bought, and they really can make the difference between a meh salad and a salad that you want to attack with gusto. Yeah, you’re going to want to attack your salad when it’s dressed in this Tahini Dressing. It’s that good! 

I have a few “rules” about dressings. I shared most of them on my post for Apple Cider Vinegar Salad Dressing (one of my most popular recipes ever.) But I am going to share some of them here too, since this dressing is made with tahini, and that makes it unique in the world of dressings. That’s because it is creamy, but it’s dairy free and doesn’t have any mayonnaise in it either! In fact it is vegan if you either skip the honey or swap in agave for the honey. But that’s jumping ahead. Let’s talk about the rules for making a good salad dressing first.

How To Make Fantastic Homemade Dressing

Start with Garlic or Allium of Some Sort

  • What Is Allium: Allium is just the garlic and onion family. Pretty much all of my dressings start with either garlic, shallot, chives or even grated onion. Ths is not an actual requirement of dressing, I just think it really adds so much! Let’s say it’s strongly encouraged!
  • Garlic Powder is Okay: I’m no snob about this either, I even like granulated garlic in dressing. Do not judge until you try it! I just made my Maple Miso Orange Dressing from my cookbook over on instagram last week and the granulated garlic (aka garlic powder) gives it a special taste! 
  • Go Easy: The key is to not use too much. Unless you’re using roasted garlic like in a Caesar dressing, it’s mostly raw garlic and shallot we’re discussing, right? Raw is much more powerful than cooked or roasted, so you do have to be careful not to add too much.
  • Dragon Breath Alert: You know you’ve added too much if a) everybody backs away when you try to talk to them, or b) your dressing is actually spicy from the amount of garlic you’ve added. 
  • Make Garlic Paste: When I am making dressing I like to make a garlic and salt paste instead of just chopping up the garlic and hoping for the best. Making the paste ensures that you won’t get any giant pieces of raw garlic in any one bite. It spreads the garlic out through the dressing, and it becomes the back note, not the main event. You can see how I make the past in the video here on this post. I also have some photos on my post about how to make egg free Caesar dressing as well. 

Add Acidity

Dressings all have to have an acidic element, whether that’s buttermilk or Greek yogurt, vinegar or citrus, this is a very important part of dressing. I’ll tell you why.

Why do Dressings have vinegar or lemon juice?

  • Salad is generally made up of greens, right? Greens are bitter in varying degrees. {They are also sweet, but the prevalent taste is bitter.} Our palates are complex in that we perceive that different tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter) balance eachother out. We find bitter less so when it is balanced by acidity.
  • Take my lemon broccoli for example. Try the steamed broccoli before the lemon mixture is added, and then after. You’ll notice that the lemon balances the bitterness and makes the broccoli taste more sweet. This is why we add lime or lemon to tonic based drinks. Tonic is bitter (and sweet) and the acidity (sour) in the citrus balances it. Nifty, huh?
  • Acidity is a good thing, but you don’t want to overdo it! The classic French formula for a vinaigrette is 1 part vinegar to 3 (or 4) parts oil. I tend to try to get away with less oil, because it is so high in calories. In my Lemon Vinaigrette for example I use 1 part lemon juice to two parts oil. 

Add Oil or Fat

There are many types of fat used in dressings. From mayo, and olive oil to nut and seed oils (don’t miss my walnut balsamic viniagrette friends!) Even using full fat yogurt is a way to add fat to a dressing. In this dressing, I have two “fatty” ingredients. I have the oil and the tahini too. 

What about oil free dressings? Though I get emails asking for oil free dressings fairly regularly, I believe that dressings should have fat or oil in them. Fat actually helps you absorb the nutrients in the vegetables. (Unless of course we’re talking about trans fats. Don’t eat those. Friends don’t let friends eat Trans fats.) 

Fat Makes You Full. Not only does it make the salad more nutritious, but it also helps to promote satiety. It slows down digestion,  and helps to prevent an insulin boom and bust, so you feel fuller longer.

Furthermore, fat tastes good. In culinary school all the chefs said it over and over: “Fat is Flavor!” Which is funny because fat actually isn’t flavor. Fat is a flavor carrier. Fat makes it so your body tastes flavors better. It’s like a flavor booster, how about that for a dorky new chef saying. Lol. 

Fat Balances Acidity. Oil or fat also balances out the acidity by extending it or dulling the concentration per volume and making the overall salad dressing less acidic per batch. Does that make sense? 

 

Add Salt

  1. Adding salt to your dressing is as important as adding acidity. In fact when my daughter was in the habit of making us dinner once a week, she used to make her “dressing” with just olive oil and salt. And it was actually pretty good.
  2. Salt does a similar thing that acidity does in that it balances bitter. More importantly, salt balances sour! If you make a dressing and it tastes too sour, add a little salt. Boom! It’s like magic. 
  3. Also, side note, if you don’t know the difference between coarse salt and table salt, you should know that the two cannot be used 1:1 in recipes, so make sure you know which one the recipe is calling for! 
  4. Salt doesn’t have to be added just in the form of table salt or kosher salt. It can also be added in the form of achovy and cheese as in Caesar dressing, or it can be added with salty ingredients like capers in Nicoise dressing or tamari in Asian Sesame Dressing.  

 

Optional Ingredients for Salad Dressings and Vinaigrettes

Sweetness, Emulsifier, Bulking Agents and Flavors. Though technically dressing can be as simple as oil, vinegar and salt, in most cases I add other stuff. Most commonly those things are a sweetener of some sort (maple or honey) and/or an emulsifier (usually mustard.) But the real fun with making a homemade salad dressing or vinaigrette is when you add in flavors.

I have been known to add cumin seeds or olives and basil to dressing before. These are not classic ingredients, but oh my do they taste amazing! 

If you’ve never thought of adding raw cranberries to dressing before, try it, and get ready for a whole world of creative salad dressings to open up to you! 

Why Add Sweetner to Dressing:

The sweetner helps to balance the other tastes. Think about it, we already have covered bitter, salt and sour. When you have the sweetness added in, you get taste bud nirvana! (Yes, it’s official, I am religious about salad dressing! Only half joking!) 

I know a lot of folks are interested in taking the sugar out of their diets, me too! And I am not a registered Dietitian, but my opinion is that in the very small amount you’re adding to a dressing, and the grams you’re getting per actual serving, the sugar isn’t really going to affect your overall health in a significant way. On the flip side, having a deliciously (nirvana like) balanced dressing is going to make you love your dressing enough to devour a giant bowl of vegetables. I’ll let you decide if you think it’s an important addition or not though. 

Tahini Dressing in a bottle with microgreens on the cutting board

Okay, let’s get to the Tahini Dressing. Shees! Here I am yammering away about dressing for 1,500 words and we have yet to discuss the actual recipe I have for you. It bears repeating. I am fanatical about dressing. I’m sorry! Sigh.

What is Tahini?

  • Tahini, is sesame paste common in Middle Eastern cuisines. It is most commonly used as an ingredient in hummus
  • It has texture similar to peanut butter, but it is more thin.
  • You can purchase it in the grocery aisle in a jar or a can.
  • Often it is in the international section. (Greek or Middle Eastern.) Occasionally it will be with the peanut butters.
  • The fat separates to the top, so once you open the jar or can, stir it really well before using it.
  • Store it in the fridge once you open it, and stir it again before using.
 

How to make Tahini Dressing

Thankfully we’ve actually covered a lot of this here, so I will just get into the details of how to make the dressing. If you have an immersion blender, I recommend making this dressing with it. It makes it ultra creamy and is much less work than whisking it by hand. A magic bullet or mini prep (mini food processor) also works great if you have one.

If you have neither, you can always just whisk this by hand too. Note it will take some elbow grease, but don’t give up until the tahini is smooth and incorporated in.

Garlic and Salt:

  • First make the garlic and salt paste. Since I don’t want to have the aforementioned dragon breath scenario going on, I just use a single garlic clove. Just a small or medium one will do. Save your giant cloves for when you’re making Potato and Kale Soup
  • Even though this dressing gets blended with an immersion blender or mini prep, I found that because it is so thick, I needed to take the time to do a salt and garlic paste. Otherwise the garlic is too chunky.

Fresh Lemon Juice:

Next add in the lemon juice. For this recipe I only needed 3 tablespoons of lemon juice. This is just enough to give a bright acidic pop and balance the bitterness of the tahini (and greens), without turning us into a pucker faced sour puss. 

Water:

Add in water. To blend the dressing I start with 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon water. Since there is a pretty wide range of thickness from brand to brand of tahini (and if you haven’t stirred it well it can settle) I think it is best to start with this amount of water. 

Olive Oil:  

Add in olive oil. As with most dressings, here is where you can pull out your nicer olive oil if you have one. Since it won’t be heated, the fruity flavors of the oil will come through and they taste stronger. Since we already have fat from the tahini, yuo’ll only need two tablespoons of oil here.

Honey:

  • I also like this tahini dressing a little better with some sweetness. See above why I like to add sweetness to salad dressing. Normally I would say, add maple syrup, but not today.
  • Aside: If you’ve never tasted the combo of tahini and maple, stop what you’re doing and print out this maple tahini dressing STAT. Or this maple tahini salmon. You will fall in love! 
  • The reason I choose honey over maple here is that while honey and maple are both sweet, maple syrup is a stronger flavor. So in the case of this Tahini dressing, I wanted to highlight the lemon and to only let the honey give a slight floral note to the flavor profile in addition to the sweet taste.
  • You can of course skip adding any sweetener at all, but beware that the sourness and bitterness will seem a little stronger. {If it’s too much so, add a pinch of salt.] If you’re vegan, you can sub in agave, which is more neutral than maple. 

Blend it Up and Thin it Out:

Next blend the dressing with your immersion blender. You’ll notice that it thickens up as it becomes smooth. At this point, dip a spoon down into it to assess the texture. If it is too thick, add in one tablespoon cold water at a time, and blend it again. Continue thinning until you reach a nice pourable consistency. 

How to Mix Tahini Dressing By Hand

If you’re whisking the dressing by hand do so in the following order:

  1. Whisk the lemon garlic and tahini first until they’re smooth
  2. Adding in the water gradually.
  3. Then add in the oil and honey at the end. 

Tip: It helps to put a damp towel under your bowl so it doesn’t spin as you whisk.

pouring tahini dressing over salad

What Can I Use Tahini Dressing For?

  1. At its most simple, I think Tahini dressing is great on greens with veggies such as radishes, tomatoes and cucumbers and olives. To make it a meal, add on some feta if you eat cheese or garlic marinated chicken  if you eat poultry. Both would be a lovely combo! 
  2. Because tahini (and lemon) are common flavors in the Middle East and in Mediterranean cuisines I also love to use this dressing for salads to accompany this Lamb Kofta Kebab recipe. 
  3. You can also use this dressing to pour over falafel or instead of mayo and ketchup for your veggie burgers! 
  4. Toss some romaine, cukes and tomatoes with this dressing, and serve it with these Grilled Za’atar Chicken Burgers. Holy moly, if you do, please invite me over! That would be a dream meal! 
  5. You can also just cut cukes into spears and dip them in this dressing. My kids love snacks like that! 
  6. Bake pita chips (or buy Stacy’s if you allow them in your house- I don’t often because I will eat ALL OF THEM in one sitting) and dip them in this dressing. Divine!! 

Thanks so much for reading. If you make this recipe, please come back to leave a star rating and review! I appreciate it so much and it really helps! 

Happy Cooking!

~Katie

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pouring tahini dressing over salad

tahini dressing

  • Author: Katie
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 1/8 cup 1x
  • Category: Salad Dressing
  • Method: No Cook
  • Cuisine: Middle Eastern

Description

Tahini Dressing with Lemon and Garlic- a vegan friendly and whole30 approved salad dressing to try this month! It takes less than five minutes to make and will transform a basic green salad into a creamy delicious meal!


Scale

Ingredients

1 clove garlic, smashed and peeled

¾ teaspoon coarse kosher salt

½ cup sesame tahini, stirred until smooth

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon water

3 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons best quality extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons honey (or agave to make vegan), optional


Instructions

  1. Chop garlic until roughly minced. Sprinkle with salt and then smash with the side of the knife, and chop the mixture until it becomes a paste. Scrape into a blender or jar of an immersion blender.
  2. Add in tahini, water, lemon, oil and honey (if using.) Puree until smooth.
  3. If dressing is too thick, add one tablespoon water and blend to thin. Continue one tablespoon as a time as necessary to achieve desired consistency.

Notes

Tip: To whisk by hand:

  1. Whisk the lemon garlic and tahini first until they’re smooth
  2. Adding in the water gradually.
  3. Then add in the oil and honey at the end.

To Make Ahead: Can be made up to 1 week ahead. Store in a jar in the refrigerator. Let it sit at room temperature or in a warm water bath to loosen it up.


Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 2 tablespoons
  • Calories: 71
  • Sugar: 1 g
  • Sodium: 165 mg
  • Fat: 6 g
  • Saturated Fat: 1 g
  • Carbohydrates: 3 g
  • Fiber: 1 g
  • Protein: 1 g
Tahini Dressing with Lemon and Garlic- a vegan friendly and whole30 approved salad dressing to try this month! It takes less than five minutes to make and will transform a basic green salad into a creamy delicious meal! #saladdressing #salad #dressing #tahini #veganrecipes #healthyrecipes