Sat, Feb 08, 2020 - Page 13 News List

The spy who loved tahini

An Israeli intelligence scandal erupted after an agent was sent to buy tahini from a Palestinian village in the West Bank

By Emine Saner  /  The Guardian

A chef in August last year places coriander on croquettes made with Black soldier fly larvae, flour and chickpea flour served on a bed of mopane worm tahini hummus at the Insect Experience Restaurant in Cape Town, South Africa.

Photo: REUTERS

A prize so valuable that a lieutenant colonel sent an agent on not just one mission to secure it, but two. The item? A box of tahini.

An agent from Israel’s military intelligence service was tasked with buying jars from a Palestinian village in the West Bank for, reports the Jerusalem Post, “non-operational needs.”

It led to a military police investigation, with the senior official who gave the order discharged and others reprimanded, including a prison sentence for one.

It isn’t known from which village the sesame paste was procured, but Nablus, in the occupied West Bank, is famous for its tahini.

“It has been for hundreds of years,” says Joudie Kalla , chef and author of the cookbooks Palestine on a Plate and Baladi.

“I think it is the most amazing tahini because it is not mass-produced. They don’t use modern technology, they are using 150-year-old machines that grind it, almost by hand, so the texture is far superior to many other brands — even other Palestinian brands that use more modern methods.”

The small batches mean the producers — often small family firms — can keep the quality high.

“It should be 100 percent sesame seeds, but other brands use other nuts to get that flavour [and] to bulk it up.”

Although it is more expensive, it is bought by ordinary Palestinians, says Kalla, although because of the political situation, she hasn’t seen it exported around the world.

“I have not seen it here in the UK. I think the only way you can get it is if you have someone going there and bringing it back. My family brings it back for me and it really is very different. It’s got a nuttier, creamier consistency. The tahini I buy here is quite watery. The ones from back home are slightly thicker, a bit more smoky, a caramel color, they have a peanut-buttery texture.”

She uses it, she says, on everything.

“I did a cooking class the other day and we used it for falafel. I use it to make tahini brownies, I use it on fish with lemon, yoghurt, tomatoes and parsley. We mix it in salads, on meat. It’s healthy, a good fat and it tastes great.”

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