Tahini is an ingredient that most people have experience with, but many don't know it. If you've eaten hummus, you've likely also enjoyed tahini.

The toasted sesame paste gives hummus its nutty flavor and light, creamy texture, and while it has been a staple in the Middle East for thousands of years, tahini is just starting to get the attention it deserves in the United States.

Found in everything from brownies and cookies to stir-fries, tahini has made its way into many recipes in recent years. Not surprisingly, there's a lot to love about this familiarly flavored paste. Although its nuttiness is often compared to peanut butter, tahini also has a slight bitterness, which gives it a more complex flavor.

And while you can find it on the shelves of most grocery stores, not all tahini is the same. Some are overly bitter with a gritty, chalky mouthfeel, while others are creamy and toasty with a mild nuttiness. The latter can be so good you only need to spread it on toast, with nothing more than a drizzle of honey and a sprinkling of flaky sea salt to thoroughly enjoy it.

So, a taste test is not a bad idea. I've enjoyed many bottles of Soom Tahini, easily ordered online, but have also had good luck with Whole Foods 365 brand, as well as Ziyad and Kevala.

This week, it's being put to good use in a simple but delightfully sophisticated Roasted Delicata Squash Salad with Tahini Honey Dressing.

Delicata is a winter squash that often gets ignored next to the mounds of butternut and acorn squashes in the produce section. If you've never tried it before, this recipe is a great opportunity to get to know this tasty squash that's very easy to work with.

Its mildly sweet, slightly nutty flavor pairs well with many other ingredients, but the attraction doesn't stop there. It is also easy to slice, doesn't need to be peeled before roasting and is reasonably sized, making it a great choice for smaller households.

In this salad, the squash is roasted, along with wedges of red onion, and served atop a bed of peppery arugula. A dressing of tahini, lemon juice, honey, salt and water comes together quickly and is drizzled over the salad. A final shower of toasted pepitas gives this dish an added crunchiness.

Because this salad is so interesting in terms of flavor and texture, it pairs well with simple main dishes. I like to serve it with roasted chicken thighs or pork loin, although it would be equally at home sitting on a holiday table, next to the roast turkey.

Roasted Delicata Squash Salad With Tahini Honey Dressing

Serves 4.

Note: Easy enough to enjoy on a weeknight, this slightly sweet, peppery, nutty salad is complex in flavor and impressive enough for a holiday table. Tahini is a Middle Eastern sesame paste. It can often be found in the condiment or global section of grocery stores. The dressing will thicken as it sits and may need more water to thin it down before using. Make sure to taste it and reseason, if necessary, after any extra water has been added. From Meredith Deeds.

For the dressing:

• 1/3 c. tahini

• 3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

• 1 tbsp. honey

• 1/4 tsp. salt

• 1/4 c. water, plus more if necessary

For the salad:

• 2 small delicata squash (about 10 to 12 oz. each), halved lengthwise, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch slices

• 1 medium red onion, cut into 1/2-in. wedges

• 2 tbsp. olive oil

• 1/4 tsp. salt

• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

• 5 oz. baby arugula

• 1/4 c. toasted pepitas


Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a small bowl, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, honey and 1/4 teaspoon salt (it will thicken quite a bit). Whisk in the water. The mixture should be creamy, not thick, with the consistency of ranch dressing. Add more water, a tablespoon at time, if necessary, until it reaches the desired consistency. If more water is added, make sure to taste and reseason with more lemon juice and salt, if needed.

Place squash slices and onion wedges in a large bowl. Add olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Arrange on a large rimmed baking sheet, lined with parchment. Roast for 20 minutes, stir and continue to roast for another 10 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned in spots. Let cool for 5 minutes.

Arrange the arugula on a large serving platter. Top with roasted vegetables, drizzle with the tahini dressing and sprinkle the pepitas over the top.

Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at meredithdeeds@gmail.com. Follow her on Instagram ­at @meredithdeeds.