Grilled Sesame Shrimp For The Win

Tahini helps marinade the shrimp and creates the foundation for the dipping sauce.

Tahini helps marinade the shrimp and creates the foundation for the dipping sauce.


Tahini is having a moment.

And it’s about time.

If you love peanut butter, almond butter or any other nut butter, you will easily fall for its cousin, tahini, which is essentially a form of sesame butter. Raw or toasted sesame seeds are ground, releasing their oil, and creating a creamy, thick, velvety, and spoonable sauce redolent of pure sweet nuttiness.

It’s what gives hummus its unmistakable lushness. It’s what fortifies so many great Middle Eastern dressings and spreads. And it’s what perks up palates with interest anew after tiredness sets in from same ol’, same ol’ peanut butter.

Levant Book

Restaurateur Rawia Bishara calls it one of her favorite pantry items. She says she could devote an entire book to it. She hasn’t gone that far, but she does include quite a few recipes using the sesame paste in her new cookbook, “Levant: New Middle Eastern Cooking From Tanoreen” (Kyle), of which I received a review copy.

Bishara opened her restaurant Tanoreen in 1998 in Brooklyn to showcase the culinary heritage of her native Nazareth.

Her cookbook includes 100 recipes for contemporary Mediterranean favorites from her restaurant, including “Spicy Lamb Egg Rolls,” “Lamb-Stuffed Potatoes in Tamarind Sauce” and “Swirled Molasses Pudding.”

Tahini plays a starring role in dishes such as “Grilled Sesame Shrimp,” that can be enjoyed in the dog days of summer or beyond because the cooking can also be done indoors on a grill pan.

A full cup of tahini goes into this dish. It’s used to make the marinade for the shrimp that’s flavored with garlic, poblano, shallot, hot pepper paste, cumin, coriander, basil and cilantro. Half that marinade is turned into a dipping sauce for the dish with the addion of lemon juice to thin it and add a pronounced tang. The recipe calls for 1 cup of lemon juice, but don’t add all of it at once because you may find that you don’t need all of it to achieve a good balance of flavors. I ended up using only 3/4 cup.

The dipping sauce that is pretty addictive.

The dipping sauce that is pretty addictive.

The recipe also calls for hot pepper paste. I had some a store-bought jar in my fridge already, so that’s what I used. But I’ve included Bishara’s recipe for making your own.

After marinating the shrimp, thread them on skewers. Bashira suggests making some veggies skewers to grill at the same time, which is a great idea to round out the meal.

The shrimp cook in no time, then get a final flourish of toasted sesame seeds sprinkled on top. The shrimp are wonderfully smoky and redolent of herbs and sesame. The creamy dipping sauce only amplifies that with its rich nutty taste. If you have any leftover sauce, thin it with a little more water to use as a great salad dressing.

Grilled flatbread is a perfect accompaniment. Or fill a pita bread to overflow with the grilled shrimp and veggies, along with a big dollop of the sauce, and you’ll have something as satisfying and delicious as any of-the-moment Middle Eastern restaurant serves.

It will make you an avowed tahini fanatic — if for any reason you aren’t one yet.

It may look fancy, but it's all a breeze to make at home.

It may look fancy, but it’s all a breeze to make at home.

Grilled Sesame Shrimp

Serves 8

For marinade:

1 cup tahini

3 tablespoons sesame oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 poblano chile, finely chopped

1 tablespoon hot pepper paste — (recipe below) or store-bought

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Pinch of sea salt

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

For rest of dish:

40 to 50 shrimp (any size), peeled and deveined

1 cup fresh lemon juice or to taste

Skewers (if using wooden skewers, soak in water for 10 to 30 minutes)

Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish


Marinated the shrimp: In a large bowl or food processor, combine tahini, sesame oil, garlic, shallot, chile, hot pepper paste, cumin, coriander, black pepper, basil, cilantro, and salt and whisk or process until combined. Stir in the ginger. Gently toss half of the marinade with the shrimp. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Make the dipping sauce: Place the remaining marinade in a blender, add the lemon juice to taste, and blend until smooth, adding a few drops of water if it’s too thick. (Refrigerate in a separate container until ready to serve.)

Heat a grill or grill-pan over medium-high. Thread the shrimp onto the skewers. Lightly oil the grill or grill pan, and cook the shrimp, turning once, until just cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes total. Remove to a plate, garnish with parsley and toasted sesame seeds, and serve with the dipping sauce alongside.

Hot Pepper Paste

(Makes about 2 cups)

6 ounces dried red chiles (Aleppo or any other variety)

2 tablespoons olive oil, or as needed


Simmer the chiles in a pot of water until fully rehydrated and tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer the chiles to an ice water bath, drain in a colander, and run cold water over them or let them sit until cool enough to handle.

Wearing disposable gloves (very important), cut the stem ends off the chiles. Slice them lengthwise, and use your fingers or a paring knife to scrape away the ribs and seeds (unless you want your paste to be really spicy). Chop the chiles, then put them in a food processor, add the oil, and process to a thick paste.

The paste will keep, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for at least a month.

Adapted from “Levant” by Rawia Bishara


More Recipes Using Tahini: Swirled Sesame Tea Cake (With An Outstanding New Tahini Brand to Try)


And: Creamy Grits with Blistered Tomatoes, Pickled Serrano Chiles, and Sunflower-Miso Tahini


And: Tahini Shortbread Cookies


And: Anthony Bourdain’s Roasted Cauliflower with Sesame

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One comment

  • what an attractive and delicious meal! i don’t eat much shrimp, but with a sauce like that, i have a feeling i’d be popping these like candy! 🙂

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