This lemon herb tahini dressing is a homemade, DIY version of the popular Cava Restaurant dressing. With just a few simple ingredients, this dressing mixes up in 5 minutes. It is perfect on a green salad or even roasted vegetables.
Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds. Store-bought tahini can very widely in its consistency. Most of them are pourable, yet thick & creamy. Others are closer to the texture of a natural nut butter. So depending on the tahini you use, you may need to add a little extra water to get the dressing to the right pourable consistency.
When you first open a jar of tahini, there will likely be a layer of oil on top. Do not discard it! This is what will make the tahini perfectly creamy for a salad dressing. The easiest and least messy way to incorporate the oil is to transfer the contents of the whole jar into a mixing bowl, and whisk or use an electric mixer until it is creamy and uniform. Then spoon or pour it back into the jar.
Very firm tahini can also go in the microwave for 10 or 15 seconds to loosen it up a little bit.
Lemon juice gives this salad dressing a perfect, fresh and tart flavor. The best option is freshly squeezed – the prepared store-bought stuff just doesn’t taste enough like lemons. One to two lemons is all you’ll need.
The store-bought version of this cava dressing does not contain any sweetener. You can leave it out, but I think that just a tad of sweetener works really well (less than a teaspoon). Food tastes best when it is a combination of sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavor. A liquid sweetener like agave or maple syrup incorporates easiest.
Not only does a sweet element enhance the other flavors in the dressing, but it also balances them very well. Tahini can be a tad bit bitter and a sweet ingredient is a perfect way to tame that flavor.
Garlic – the easiest way to get garlic into a dressing is with garlic granules (aka granulated garlic). Garlic powder is a much more fine grind of garlic and can be used, but cut the amount in half. You could also use fresh garlic (grated on a microplane), but I feel that the dried version flavors the dressing more evenly.
It may sound odd to add water to a salad dressing. But all of the other ingredients have strong flavors and the water brings them down to just the right level. Also the tahini is quite thick and the dressing needs to be thinned out to make this the right consistency for salad dressing.
Chopped cilantro adds a perfect fresh element to this dressing. Cilantro oxidizes very quickly once chopped. So mix up the dressing first. Then chop the cilantro and transfer it straight to the bowl. Once it’s in the dressing the oxidation will stop.
I’ve had this dressing several times in the restaurants and the thickness of the dressing is different each time. Sometimes it is watery thin and other times it is creamy and thick.
The jarred dressing that I’ve bought at the market is consistently very thick and when refrigerated, is impossible to pour on a salad. So I have made this recipe somewhere in the middle.
The recipe calls for two tablespoons to 1/4 cup water. You’ll start by adding just two tablespoons of water and stirring it in. If it’s too thick, you can add the rest. But remember the dressing will thicken some once refrigerated.
Roasted Vegetable Salad – Fresh arugula with roasted zucchini, roasted eggplant and roasted peppers. Top with feta and pine nuts or chopped walnuts
Fresh Green Salad – Red leaf lettuce, diced cucumber, shredded carrot, diced gala apple, topped with toasted slivered almonds.
Broccoli Slaw/Salad– Shredded broccoli stocks (ready-made works great), shredded carrot, finely shaved red cabbage, matchstick sliced green apple and red pepper. Top with toasted sunflower seeds.
DIY (Cava Copycat) Homemade Lemon Herb Tahini Dressing
- ½ c tahini
- 2 Tbsp-¼ c warm water
- ⅓ c fresh squeezed lemon juice (1-2 lemons)
- 1 tsp agave or maple syrup
- ½ tsp granulated garlic (or ¼ tsp garlic powder)
- ¼-½ tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro
- Star by giving your tahini a good stir. The thicker part has likely sunk to the bottom. The easiest way to do it is to pour the contents of the jar into a mixing bowl and whisk or mix with an electric mixer until smooth.
- Place 2 Tbsp of water, the tahini, lemon juice, agave and garlic powder in a medium sized mixing bowl.
- Use a wire whisk or electric mixer to blend until smooth and uniform.
- If it's too thick, add another tablespoon of water and a teaspoon of lemon juice. If it's still too thick, you can add another tablespoon of water.
- Finely the chop the cilantro and stir into the dressing using a spoon.
- Stir in ¼ tsp salt and taste. If it tastes a little blah or the flavors of the ingredients are not coming through, add more salt, 2 pinches at a time until you are satisfied with the flavor.
- This dressing should be refrigerated and will stay fresh for at least 1 week.