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Peanut Butter And Tahini: Separated At Birth?

Tahini gado-gado and hummus with peanut butter. Credit: Charles Perry.

Tahini gado-gado and hummus with peanut butter. Credit: Charles Perry.

I’ve often thought of peanut butter as the American tahini because they’re both oily seeds ground to a paste. The resemblance between peanut butter and tahini used to be even more marked in the 1950s before homogenized peanut butter was invented, because in those days you had to stir up your peanut butter just about every time you opened the jar, as you have to do with tahini today.

The aromas are certainly different, with peanut butter being toasty and a little funky, while tahini is redolent not only of sesame seed but of something faintly vegetal. But they’re often treated much the same, except that nobody makes tahini-jelly sandwiches because tahini is much too liquid.

Specifically, there’s a certain similarity between hummus, the chickpea dip that has conquered the world in the last 50 years, and the peanut sauce that goes on the Indonesian cooked-vegetable salad gado-gado. The gado-gado sauce, or bumbu as it is called in Bahasa, Indonesia, has a lot more ingredients than tahini has. For instance, you can put in shallots, spices, coconut cream and fermented shrimp paste in gado-gado, but both sauces typically contain garlic and lemon juice.

Peanut butter and tahini trade places

So I decided to switch the ingredients. Hummus was, of course, invented with tahini in mind, and ditto with gado-gado. I decided to spruce up the substitute versions with a pinch of cumin in one, and turmeric in the other, even though I’m generally anti-cumin when it comes to hummus. They worked quite well, especially the hummus with peanut butter.

Tahini Gado-Gado

Serves 3 to 4


1 pound mixed vegetables such as carrots, peppers, new potatoes, green beans, cabbage leaves

1 onion

Oil for frying

½ cup tahini, mixed smooth

1 clove garlic, squeezed or grated

1 teaspoon brown sugar

½ teaspoon ground red pepper or hot paprika

1 cup water

Salt to taste

¼ teaspoon turmeric, optional

Juice of ½ lemon


1. Steam or grill the vegetables.

2. Cut the onion in half width-wise and cut half into rings and the rest into small dice. Fry in oil until golden brown. Separate the rings from the dice, and drain on paper towels separately.

3. Put the tahini in a small frying pan and add the garlic, brown sugar, red pepper and fried diced onions. Stir together and gradually stir in the water. Bring to a  boil, and boil over medium heat until thick. Stir in salt and optional turmeric.

4. Arrange the vegetables on a serving plate. Stir the lemon juice into the sauce and dress the vegetables with the sauce. You will have sauce left over, which you can serve separately at the table.

Hummus With Peanut Butter

Makes 3 to 4 servings


2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas

Juice of 3 lemons, or to taste

1 to 2 cloves garlic, pressed or grated

3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter

Salt to taste

Cumin to taste, optional


1. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and put in a food processor with the lemon juice and garlic. Purée for about 1 minute.

2. Add the peanut butter and purée until smooth.

3. Season with salt and optional cumin to taste.

Top photo: Tahini gado-gado and hummus with peanut butter. Credit: Charles Perry

Zester Daily contributor Charles Perry is a former rock 'n' roll journalist turned food historian who worked for the Los Angeles Times' award-winning Food section, where he twice was a finalist for the James Beard award.


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