What it means

In Arabic, it means "to grind," which is exactly how hulled sesame seeds are transformed into the Middle Eastern pantry staple.

The paste, which dates back at least eight centuries, is so critical to Middle Eastern cooking that it turns up nearly three dozen times in "Jerusalem," Yottam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's extraordinarily popular 2012 cookbook.

Because tahini (also spelled tehina, tahina and tachina) is a primary component of hummus, American eaters sometimes conflate the two preparations. But as Ottolenghi and Tamimi point out, tahini isn't merely a hummus base.

"Tahini is very much the local version of peanut butter," they write in their introduction to a tahini cookie recipe. "Raw tahini paste mixed with honey makes the most delicious breakfast spread. A staple Palestinian breakfast snack is chunks of bread dipped in tahini mixed with grape molasses. Iraqi Jews serve dates drenched in tahini."

Where we'll see it

At the festival, Cooking in the Casbah: A Taste of Zahav Cooking Demonstration + Tasting with Chef Michael Solomonov, at 4 p.m. Friday. (Hummus tehina, $45 for session)

Where else you can try it

On King Street, Leyla serves a fatteh d'tahini, or toasted pita bread with tahini sauce, and Verde offers a lemon tahini dressing for its salads and wraps.

Where to buy it

Almost every self-respecting grocery store stocks canned or jarred tahini: The Joyva brand is ubiquitous. Expect to pay around $6 for a 16-ounce serving, and don't forget to stir it upon opening. Like all natural nut butters, tahini has a tendency to separate into oil and solids.

Hanna Raskin