Move over eggs mayonnaise, there’s a new egg salad in town: muttabalat taheena! (Yemeni for “tahini egg salad.”)
I first came across tahini (finely ground sesame paste) as a substitute for mayonnaise in a delicious recipe for Instant Pot cannellini bean salad from America’s Test Kitchen‘s wonderful Mediterranean Instant Pot, one of my all-time favorite cookbooks. Now it’s cropped up again, courtesy of another lovely cookbook, Classic Vegetarian Cooking from the Middle East and North Africa, by Habeeb Salloum.
If you’ve ever attended any of my webinars you’ll know that I tend to avoid industrially produced seeds oils like soybean, canola, sunflower, safflower, etc. — the kinds that most commercial brands of mayonnaise are made with. I do tolerate — and occasionally use — mayonnaise made with avocado oil, but only from the Chosen Foods brand. That’s because Chosen Foods (not a sponsor!) was one of a tiny handful of avocado-oil brands that did well in a 2020 avocado-oil study from UC Davis, which found that 82% of avocado oil sold in the US is adulterated with other oils or rancid.
But even top-quality mayonnaise isn’t exactly what I’d call highly nutritious. Sure, it’s a good source of heart-healthy oleic & linoleic fatty acids and may reduce postprandial (after-meal) inflammation and blood sugar increases. But once it’s refined (which 99% of avocado oils and mayonnaises sold in U.S. supermarkets are), it has lost its health-supportive phytochemicals, including chlorophyll and carotenoids, and isn’t much more than a good, heat-stable fat. (Whereas extra virgin olive oil — my all-time favorite culinary oil — contains all those healthy attributes).
Whenever I have to choose between two ingredients of equal deliciousness but varying degrees of nutritiousness, nutrition always wins the day. In this case, it’s tahini. It tastes as good as mayonnaise (actually, to me, it tastes a little better — nutty, warm and with a slight hint of bitterness) but is much less processed and contains significantly more nutrient than mayonnaise.
Tahini is high in fiber, protein and an assortment of important vitamins and minerals. According to this article on tahini, it is an especially good source of copper, a trace mineral essential for iron absorption, blood clot formation, and blood pressure. It’s also rich in selenium, a mineral that helps decrease inflammation and promotes immune health, as well as phosphorus, which is involved in maintaining bone health. Lastly, it has been associated with several benefits, including improved heart health, reduced inflammation, and potential cancer-fighting effects.
One drawback of tahini is that it’s quite high in omega-6 fatty acids which, though essential, may have a pro-inflammatory effect when eaten in large quantities. However, a serving of this salad doesn’t exactly constitute a “large quantity.”
Moreover, I’m less concerned about omega-6-rich foods that are whole (sesame seeds) or minimally processed (tahini) because they tend to contain other nutrients — like magnesium and vitamin E — that have been shown to protect unstable omega-6 fatty acids from oxidation. (Unlike highly refined omega-6-rich seed oils — especially when they are used to deep-fry foods.)
So, as nutritionist Chris Kresser points out, “epidemiological evidence supports the idea that different sources of omega-6 might have different effects on health. Nuts and seeds contain large amounts of omega-6, yet are consistently negatively associated with cardiovascular disease. A pooled analysis of four prospective studies with follow-up time ranging from six to 18 years found that nut consumption resulted in a 37 percent reduction in cardiovascular-related mortality. Nut consumption has been shown to reduce inflammation and may also reduce risk of type 2 diabetes and cancer,” he writes.
One situation where whole-food omega-6 could potentially become an issue is in people with low intake of omega-3 fatty acids, Kresser goes on to caution. “Short-chain omega-6 and omega-3 PUFAs directly compete for the desaturase and elongase enzymes that convert them to their long-chain derivatives. This means that excess omega-6 in the form of linoleic acid may inhibit the conversion of omega-3 alpha-linoleic acid into its long-chain derivatives, EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are components of healthy cell membranes and are particularly important for cardiovascular and neurological health. Luckily, as long as we eat adequate pre-formed EPA and DHA in the form of fatty fish, we effectively bypass this issue and can eat whole-food omega-6 without much tribulation.”
In this recipe, egg yolks can supply omega-3 fats (provided you are using pasture-fed or omega-3-enriched eggs). Adding a slice of salmon, as I did here, could further right the omega-3-to-6 balance.
But enough already with the nutrition geekery! Let’s get a batch of tahini egg salad going!
Oh, one more thing: Everyone has their own favorite way of hard-cooking eggs. I struggled for years (especially when I moved to high-altitude Boulder, Colorado); either I overcooked them (resulting in an ugly, grey-green ring around the yolks) and/or they were impossible to peel. Eventually I read about how cooking them in the Instant Pot solves all these problems, and I haven’t looked back! Give it a try, if you have a pressure cooker (doesn’t have to be an Instant Pot); or stick with your habitual method — whatever works.
Tahini Egg Salad
- ¼ cup tahini the mildest, smoothest tahini I know is made by Soom Foods (not a sponsor); check out their gorgeous recipes, too
- ¼ cup lemon juice freshly pressed
- 2 tbsp cold water
- 2 cloves garlic minely minced
- ¼ cup parsley or cilantro chopped
- ½ tsp salt ½
- ½ tsp black pepper freshly ground
- 6 large eggs hard-boiled, cooled, peeled & coarsely mashed with an egg slicer or a fork
- ½ tsp smoked paprika powder garnish
- Place tahini, lemon juice, water and garlic in a medium mixing bowl and combine into a smooth paste with a wire whisk. (You can use a small blender to do this, but then you'd have one more thing to wash up.)
- Add chopped parsley or cilantro (whichever using), salt, pepper and mashed eggs and stir gently to combine. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
- Transfer to a bowl, sprinkle with paprika and serve.
- Tastes delicious as a dip with crackers, or served on toast or in a wrap with 1-2 ounces smoked salmon and a salad on the side.