Tarator Sauce

This is an all-purpose Middle Eastern sauce for fish, salads, cooked vegetables, and pita bread. The Turks prefer to use walnuts and hazelnuts. The Syrians and Lebanese use pine nuts and occasionally almonds. I like it with walnuts (even though it turns a funny shade of purple), hazelnuts, pine nuts, and the less conventional pistachios. The latter is especially good with the fritto misto of shellfish, especially deep-fried mussels.

Tarator can be spread on fish before baking; the tahini keeps the fish very moist. One of the biggest surprises I had when travelling in the Yucatan was to find samak tarator on a menu in Merida. It was baked snapper with a pine nut version of this sauce. I later learned there was a large Lebanese population in Merida that had intermarried with the local Indians. This ethnic mix certainly produced some interesting cuisine.

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup shelled walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, almonds, or pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 6 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste), stirred well
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ to ½ cup cold water or as needed
  • Olive oil (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Cayenne pepper (optional)
  • Chopped fresh parsley or cilantro for garnish

Method

Place the nuts and garlic in a food processor and pulse until combined. Add the tahini and 4 tablespoons lemon juice and puree. Mix in cold water by tablespoons until the sauce is thinned to the consistency of sour cream. You could also thin it with a little olive oil for a more spreadable consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you would like some heat, add cayenne to taste. Garnish with parsley or cilantro.