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Sesame: Opening a World of Flavor and History

What food ingredient, that you use today, do you think Egyptians used in baking? It represented immortality in ancient Hindu legends. Based on how it is harvested, it might be the origin of Ali Baba’s phrase, “Open sesame!” That’s right, it’s sesame seeds!

Sesame Opening a World of Flavor and History

Sesame seeds are available in yellow or black and are sometimes infused with tea or spices to create red or green hues. India, China, and Mexico are the largest producers of sesame seeds, and the way the seeds grow calls for laborious hand harvesting. Multiple pods grow on one stalk of the plant but open at varying times of ripening. As the pods ripen, they pop open releasing the seeds. The U.S., on the other hand, produces a unique sesame seed allowing all the seed pods to remain closed until harvested, allowing for ease of harvesting.

Memories of sesame seeds are sprinkled throughout the traditional Greek foods of my youth. They topped Tsoureki (Greek Easter Bread) and were the main ingredient in my father’s favorite sweets, Halva and Sesame Candy.

Sesame: Opening a World of Flavor and History

Purchasing, Storing, and Using Sesame

Buy sesame seeds in bulk only if you are sure they are fresh; they should be in a sealed container. Shop a bulk food purveyor who turns product over quickly.

Prevent seeds, oil, or butter from turning rancid by storing in the refrigerator or in a cool, dark place in a glass airtight container.

You will find sesame seeds in Middle Eastern to Asian dishes. Adding these seeds to your pantry is an easy way to add a bit of playful flavor to everyday dishes. Try sprinkling on salads, grilled food, or roasted vegetables. Tahini, or sesame paste, makes a lovely addition to dressings but can also be used in sweet recipes.

Add sesame seeds into the batter the next time you make homemade bread, muffins, or cookies, or sprinkle over steamed broccoli. Spread tahini on toasted bread and drizzle with honey for a sweet treat. Make an easy dressing for salads, vegetables, and noodles by combining toasted sesame seeds, sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and crushed garlic.

Sesame: Opening a World of Flavor and History

Tahini Cookies

makes approximately 20 cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour (I prefer spelt or whole wheat white)
  • 1 cup tahini
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin coconut oil, melted or oil of your choice
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips or chopped nuts, optional

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine all of the ingredients until you get a moist but crumbly dough. The dough may be crumbly but will hold its shape.

Using 1 tablespoon measurements, form small balls; gently press the ball between the palm of your hand to flatten into the shape of a disc.

Bake for 20 minutes.

Sesame: Opening a World of Flavor and History

More Sesame to Love

Black Sesame and Ginger Ice Cream from Golubka Kitchen

Sesame Crusted Baked Tofu from Meats and Sweets

Sesame Crusted Chicken from Impeccable Taste

Sesame Brittle from Yummly

Photo Credits: jeltovski, Sanjay Ach, author, and author.

Sesame: Opening a World of Flavor and History

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