After being delayed for nearly six hours at a tiny regional airport with horribly tasteless meals and overpriced snacks, I got home and hungrily stared at my fridge’s contents. Unfortunately, pickings were slim—and I mean, slim.

I had a full condiment rack, a cucumber, a bag of wilted lettuce, some lemons, and a carton of leftover white rice from a regrettable late-night Chinese takeout chow down.

What could I possibly do with a dismal selection? It hit me when I glanced over my condiment rack and saw it—a hidden bottle of tahini.

It’s hard to imagine a world without bottled tahini, but the creamy, rich, sesame seed-based liquid is a godsend for home cooks aiming to intensify flavors in soups, sauces, marinades, and even desserts.

Clocking in at $3.49 per bottle at Trader Joe’s, tahini is one of the cheapest ways to add amazing flavor to items you probably already have in your kitchen. For me, I can often transform whatever is lurking in my fridge into a full meal with tahini and a splash of lemon in very little time and at no extra cost.

I took out the lonely cucumber and gave it a quick brush of olive oil, sprinkled on some salt, and threw it in the oven. In the microwave, I reheated the rice carefully and seasoned it with salt and pepper to taste. When the cucumber was done, I dressed it with tahini and lemon. And, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, I generously drizzled tahini on top of my steamed rice.

Voila! Dinner was served, and since then I’ve always kept a bottle of tahini and some lemon in my fridge for those desperate days.

Here are a few other ways that tahini can save the day when all hope is lost:

Salad Dressing

Are you staring down a big bowl of clean greens with nothing enticing you to eat them? Hello, tahini! A generous dose of tahini accompanied by a splash of lemon juice is a sure way to enjoy greens. Trythis variation of the dressing in a pinch.

Vegetable Dip

Roasted or raw veggies are eaten with vigor when accompanied by a dollop of a tahini-based sauce. Cooking Light’s variation isonly 46 calories per serving, which can seriously transform a lonely batch of veggies you might have sitting in your fridge.

On Rice Or Noodles

Grains have a habit of sitting in our pantry for a very long time, but you’ll find yourself reaching for them more once you start slathering them in a tahini-lemon mix. My favorite way to revitalize cold noodles and leftover rice lies in the glorious bottle of tahini, and it only gets better when you add in parsley or garlic.

Sandwich Spread

Occasionally you might just have two pieces of bread and some odd fillings to get you by, but a swab of tahini mixed with lemon juice really amps up the savory notes of a traditional sandwich. From boring to fabulous in just a second, tahini on sandwiches is also a great option for vegans who can’t have mayo.

Baked Proteins

Have a glorious breast of chicken or a nice cut of salmon that you didn’t have time to marinade? When baking, add a drizzle of tahini and a squirt of lemon juice before brushing it into your protein. It’s a game changer in a flash.

This story originally appeared on CookingLight.com.