This easy lemon tahini sauce is the ultimate sauce for falafel. But it is so much more versatile than that! Serve it with any Middle Eastern or Mediterranean dishes, use it as a dip, or add it to your next mezze spread.
The tahini sauce is light and airy with a creamy texture and luscious lemon flavour. And it happens to be dairy-free, gluten-free and naturally vegan.
This simplified version of Michael Solomonov’s tahini sauce relies on fresh lemon juice to mellow the garlic flavours. And it delivers creamy tahini sauce every time.
Jump straight to the easy lemon tahini sauce recipe or keep reading for all the tahini sauce tips and tricks.
What is tahini?
Tahini is a ground sesame paste made from hulled white sesame seeds. It has a mild, nutty taste and a creamy texture.
Buy the best quality tahini for the best lemon tahini sauce. And be sure it says tahini on the label. Tahini may be sesame paste, but all sesame paste is not tahini. Read more about the difference between tahini and Chinese sesame paste.
Yotam Ottolenghi recommends looking for tahini from Levantine countries, specifically the Israeli, Lebanese, and Palestinian tahini brands. He uses the Israeli Al Arz brand specifically. But I also often buy Achva organic tahini. Both brands are delicious and available on Amazon.
If you can’t find tahini in the grocery store, it is easy to make tahini at home.
Michael Solomonov’s tahini sauce
Kenji López-Alt first introduced me to Solomonov’s amazing tahini sauce via serious eats.
He strains a blended mix of whole garlic cloves and lemon juice through a fine mesh strainer. And after the tahini, he adds cold water, a little bit at a time.
The result is a light, creamy tahini sauce with surprisingly mellow garlic flavours and gorgeous citrus notes.
If you have the time (and don’t mind the extra washing up), go ahead and use Michael Solomonov’s method. I include instructions in the recipe card notes.
But by finely grating the garlic, we can recreate the mellow garlic flavour and light creamy texture without requiring extra equipment. And without throwing away the garlic pulp.
(Find Kenji’s version of Solomonov’s tahini sauce on serious eats.)
Why you’ll love this lemon tahini sauce
- It has the mellowness of Michael Solomonov’s tahini sauce recipe without needing a blender.
- There is no need to strain the tahini sauce thanks to the fine texture of grated garlic.
- The tahini sauce is light and airy, creamy and smooth – even without blending.
- It is also dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan.
- But most of all, it is quick and easy to make. And it’s a super versatile sauce.
Why not make a double batch?
Lemon tahini sauce ingredients
If you hang out here often, you know I adore citrus. And this luscious lemon sauce has everything a citrus lover desires.
As with any recipe using such simple ingredients, quality is essential.
- Garlic cloves: I grate three garlic cloves with a Microplane, but you can use the smallest side of your box grater too. Alternatively, blitz the garlic into the lemon juice with a blender or substitute it with a teaspoon of garlic paste. If you don’t have fresh garlic, substitute it with a teaspoon of garlic powder (and skip the resting time in the recipe).
- Lemon juice: Use freshly squeezed lemon juice for the freshest lemon flavour. Garnish the sauce with lemon zest for even more lemony goodness. Or use the salty lemon brine from preserved lemons (use half the amount of fresh lemon juice and omit the salt).
- Ground cumin: The ground spice adds an earthy flavour that complements the tahini. But you can omit it if you prefer. Or instead, sprinkle the sauce with za’atar before serving.
- Tahini paste: Use good quality tahini. Check the label and ingredients list. It should be tahini (or tahina) made from only ground sesame seeds. I always look for Israeli tahini. But you can make your own tahini from hulled sesame seeds using a food processor or high-speed blender.
- Cold water: Adding the water a little at a time, and mixing thoroughly between additions, results in the creamiest tahini sauce. It is ridiculously light and incredibly smooth.
- Sea salt: Use the salt you have on hand. I use about a teaspoon of ground sea salt or kosher salt. Taste and adjust it to your liking.
How to make lemon tahini sauce
Step 1: Prepare your ingredients
Squeeze the juice from about three to four lemons. You need half a cup of fresh lemon juice (or a bit more if you want it super lemony).
Finely grate three peeled cloves of garlic into the lemon juice.
For Solomonov’s method:
If you have a blender – and you don’t mind the additional straining step. Use a whole head of garlic (roughly 20 cloves).
Add the unpeeled garlic cloves to a blender with ⅔ cup of lemon juice.
Briefly pulse the garlic and lemon juice in a blender until you have a coarse paste.
Step 2: Leave the garlic in the lemon juice
Let it rest for at least 10 minutes. The acidic lemon juice allows the pungent garlic flavours to mellow.
For Solomonov’s method:
After resting the garlic for 10 minutes, push the lemony garlic paste through a fine mesh strainer. And discard the garlic pulp that remains in the strainer.
Continue with the recipe.
Step 3: Add the tahini
Grab a large mixing bowl and add the garlicky lemon juice and tahini. Use a fork to combine the ingredients. The mixture will seize up and turn thick and stodgy.
Don’t worry. The lemon tahini sauce will turn creamy in the next step!
Step 4: Add cold water, a little bit at a time
Get half a cup of cold water. Add the water, two tablespoons at a time, stirring with the fork between each addition. Once the sauce loosens, swap the fork for a whisk.
Keep adding water two tablespoons at a time, whisking the sauce between each addition. The sauce will turn smooth and creamy.
You don’t need to add all of the water. Stop once the tahini sauce reaches the desired consistency. But half a cup of water works perfectly for my tahini.
Or add more water, one tablespoon at a time, if the sauce is still too thick.
Step 5: Season to taste
Whisk in half a teaspoon of ground cumin. Taste the sauce and add salt.
I add a teaspoon of sea salt or kosher salt.
Transfer the sauce to an airtight container and store it in the fridge for up to five days. The flavour of the lemon tahini sauce will continue to develop as it sits.
Tips for the best lemon tahini sauce
- Stir your tahini in the jar before you measure it out. Proper tahini contains only sesame seeds, and separation will occur in the jar.
- Don’t skip the resting time. The acidic lemon juice gets rid of the pungent garlic flavours. Instead, it infuses the sauce with mellow garlic notes.
- Start by mixing the ingredients with a fork and switch to a whisk once the sauce loosens. The solid particles in the tahini stick together because they are attracted to the water in lemon juice. It causes the mixture to seize and turn into a stodgy, difficult-to-whisk, paste.
- Add the water a little bit at a time. Once there is enough water, the solid particles can freely slide past each other. The seized sauce relaxes and turns into a creamy emulsion.
Tahini Sauce Recipe Variations
I love this easy lemon tahini sauce. But once you have this method down, there is so much room for experimenting.
Why not try?
- Green tahini sauce: Add a large handful of herbs like parsley, cilantro and mint. Then process in a food processor for a fresh green tahini sauce.
- Preserved lemon tahini sauce: Swap the fresh lemon juice for preserved lemon brine (the liquid left behind when you remove all the preserved lemons). Or use preserved lemon puree. Use a quarter cup of preserved lemon brine or puree to substitute the half cup of lemon juice. And taste the lemon tahini sauce before you add more salt.
- Harissa tahini sauce: Spice up this lemon tahini sauce with a tablespoon of rose harissa paste (or your favourite harissa paste). The sauce turns a beautiful pink hue with a fragrant, spicy harissa kick.
How to use lemon tahini sauce
This tahini sauce adds a flavour burst to any Middle Eastern or Mediterranean dish. Make a double batch of the lemon tahini sauce to boost healthy midweek dinners.
It is, of course, delicious over grilled meat and fish. But you can also use it to boost roasted vegetables or salads.
Here are some lemon tahini sauce serving suggestions:
- Middle Eastern falafel: It is the ultimate falafel sauce. Drizzle it over falafel pitas or use it as a dipping sauce for crispy Middle Eastern falafel. You can also make convenient baked falafel using canned chickpeas.
- Grain salads: Use it in this bulgur wheat salad with tahini or generously spoon it over quinoa kale chickpea salad.
- Roasted vegetables: Lemon tahini sauce is the perfect accompaniment to roasted eggplant wedges, charred broccolini, harissa roasted cauliflower or shawarma-spiced roasted cauliflower.
- Cold salads: Use it instead of mayonnaise for healthy potato or egg salads. Or drizzle it over a no-mayo herbed potato salad.
- Middle Eastern salads: Use this sauce in Israeli-style tahini salad. Or add it to fresh salads like fattoush, tabouleh or this Arabic chopped salad.
- Tahini Dip: Serve it as a dipping sauce for fritters or fresh crudités.
- Mezze: Try it as part of a mezze spread alongside creamy lemony hummus, labneh (strained yoghurt cheese) and spicy middle eastern sauces like zhoug or shatta.
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and grated*
- ½ cup fresh lemon juice, from about 3 lemons
- 1 cup tahini paste
- ½ cup cold water, more as needed
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
- Place the grated garlic and lemon juice in a large mixing bowl. Let the garlic sit in the acidic lemon juice for 10 minutes to mellow. Don’t skip this resting time, or your lemon tahini sauce will be too pungent.
- Add the tahini paste and use a fork to mix it with the lemon juice. The mixture will seize up and turn thick and grainy.
- Next, add the water, two tablespoons at a time, stirring with the fork between each addition. Once the sauce loosens, swap the fork for a whisk and keep adding water a little bit at a time. The sauce will turn smooth and creamy.
- Add more water, one tablespoon at a time, if the sauce is too thick.
- Whisk in the ground cumin. Taste and season with salt – I add a teaspoon of sea salt but you may need less if you use a very salty salt like Morton's kosher salt.
- For a smooth sauce, grated garlic works best – I use a Microplane. But you can finely mince the garlic if you’re not in the mood for grating garlic. Alternatively, you can blitz the peeled garlic cloves and lemon juice in a blender for an ultra-smooth tahini sauce.
- This recipe is a simplified version of Michael Solomonov’s tahini sauce. For his creamy tahini sauce method: Use a blender to pulse a whole head of unpeeled garlic cloves with ⅔ cup of lemon juice. Allow the pulp to sit for 10 minutes. Then push the pulp through a fine mesh strainer, discarding the remaining garlic pieces. Continue with the recipe in step 2.
- The recipe yields approximately 2 cups, but you can easily double or half the recipe as needed.