Aug 8, 2012

SESAME SEEDS, The First Recorded Seasoning In History

Sesame Plant
It is widely naturalized in tropical regions around the world 
and is cultivated for its edible seeds, which grow in pods. 
Click on photo to view larger
The sesame plant, originating in Africa as early as 1500 BC, was the first recorded seasoning in history. Today it is cultivated in Central America, India, Sudan, China, and the United States. It is an annual that grows three to six feet high. Its stems have white, lilac or pink flowers and bear capsule-like fruit, which contains the seeds. The fruit is harvested by hand, and the capsules shatter when fully ripe, releasing the seeds. Hulled seeds are pearly white, tear-shaped and flat. Because of their oil content, sesame seeds have a shelf life of about two years if stored tightly capped in a cool, dry place or in the refrigerator.

Babylonians used the oil to make sesame cakes, wine, brandy, and toiletries. Sesame has been cultivated for its seed and oil since ancient times in the Old World. Sesame arrived in China around the early Han period, where the grain was enjoyed by Emperor Ling (168-188 CE). Today in china, two types of sesame seeds are used: white and black. Both forms are popular in Chinese sweets, often to form a nutty coating for texturally chewy yet crunchy deep-fried snacks such as deep fried glutinous rice flour balls; or mixed with crushed peanuts for filling or dressing for sweet snacks.

There are many ancient sesame confections in Middle Eastern and Greek cuisines which can still be found today in stores specialising in foods of these regions. Both sesame paste and sesame oil are used in Middle Eastern, Central and Far East Asian cuisines. Their oil is cold-pressed, giving a light to golden coloured oil with a nutty flavor. It has a high smoke point, making it a good cooking oil. Chinese and Japanese sesame oils are made by pressing roasted white sesame seeds. The resultant oil has a much more pronounced flavor with regional variations in color (from light honey to dark brown) with a toasted sesame seed flavor. Sesame paste is made from grinding toasted sesame seeds. The Middle Eastern paste, tahini (or tahina), differs from the Chinese versions in that the seeds are roasted to a greater degree in the latter.

Burger King Sesame Seed Hamburger Bun

Sesame seeds are rich in calcium, vitamins B and E, iron, and zinc, and are high in protein and contains no cholesterol. It has been used for its healing properties for thousands of years. It also has been shown to have a cholesterol-lowering effect in the body, enhance the immune response, and decrease the risk of certain cancers. It has natural antibacterial and antiviral properties, and is used as a natural anti-inflammatory agent.

Last year alone, the United States imported more than 102 million pounds of sesame seed, the majority of which were put on top of hamburger buns.


Grilled Pork Tenderloin 
with Honey and Sesame Seeds
I've made this recipe many times and it's so good that I put it into my first cookbook! The marinade gives the pork a wonderful flavor, then the toasted sesame seeds really finish this off nicely.

3/4 pound pork tenderloin
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sesame oil
4 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons sesame seeds

Combine soy sauce, garlic, ginger and oil. Place in a zip-lock bag with tenderloin. Toss to coat and marinate in the refrigerator for 3 to 6 hours, turning occasionally.

Remove the tenderloin and discard marinade. In a shallow plate mix together honey and sugar. Roll the tenderloin in honey mixture, coating all sides. Roll tenderloin in seeds to cover meat.

Place the tenderloin in a preheated grill for 20 to 30 minutes, turning 2 or three times, until meat thermometer reaches 155˚F. Slice and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Sesame Snow Pea & Tofu Stir-fry
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin or dry sherry
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 pound firm tofu, patted dry and cut into large dice
3 medium shallots, thinly sliced
4 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 pound snow peas
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
Basic Steamed White Rice, for serving

Whisk together soy sauce, mirin, sugar, cornstarch, vinegar, and red pepper flakes in a small, nonreactive bowl; set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large frying pan over high heat. When it smokes, add tofu and cook until golden brown on all sides, about 3 minutes. Remove to a plate and set aside.
Reduce heat to medium, add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, shallots, and garlic and cook until starting to brown, about 1 minute. Add snow peas and sesame seeds and cook, stirring frequently, until peas are bright green, slightly softened, yet still crisp, about 5 minutes. Add reserved tofu and soy sauce mixture and cook just until tofu is warm and sauce has thickened slightly, about 1 minute more. Serve immediately over steamed rice. Makes 4-6 servings.

Grilled Ahi with Sesame Crust
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup chopped scallions
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon ground fresh ginger
4 tuna steaks, about 6 ounces each
1/2 cup sesame seeds, white and black combined, or white only
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

In a large zip-top bag, combine soy sauce, chopped scallions, lemon juice, sesame oil and fresh ginger. Swish around in bag to combine. Add tuna steaks, turning within bag to coat, and marinate in refrigerator for about 20 minutes.

Preheat contact grill to "Sear" or highest temperature setting. Place sesame seeds on a plate. Remove tuna steaks from marinade bag, brushing scallions off the steaks and reserving marinade. One at a time, coat the steaks in sesame seeds on all sizeds, pressing the seeds into the steak so they'll stick.

Spray the grill plates lightly with nonstick spray and place the steaks on the grill, closing the cover so the top grill rests evenly on the steaks. Grill for about 3 minutes (longer if you prefer your tuna cooked through). Remove from grill and keep warm.

Meanwhile, pour marinade into a small saucepot and bring to a boil. Add cornstarch, stirring with a whisk. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, until sauce thickens. Drizzle tuna steaks with sauce before serving. Makes 4 servings.

Sesame Vinaigrette
Sesame vinaigrette is wonderful on a salad. Try fresh mango slices, tomatoes, and slivers of red onion on a bed of watercress, topped off with a few tablespoons of sesame vinaigrette and toasted sesame seeds. Or roast some beets, slice them and drizzle with sesame vinaigrette, serve beets while they are warm. Or blanch some asparagus in salted boiling water for a couple of minutes, run cold water over them to stop the cooking process. Pour sesame vinaigrette over them and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Or use it in a potato salad with roasted red peppers and hard-cooked egg.

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 medium garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 2 medium limes)
2 tablespoons mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon white miso (You can find miso paste refrigerated at most grocery stores)
1 anchovy fillet
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1 red Thai chile, seeds and ribs removed and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon togarashi (Togarashi powder, a Japanese mixture of spices that always contains chiles, can be found in ethnic markets. (It may also be labeled shichimi togarashi.)

Heat the sesame oil in a small frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Scrape the oil and the garlic into a blender. Add the olive oil, lime juice, mirin, soy sauce, miso, anchovy, and sugar and blend until smooth. Remove to a small bowl, add the sesame seeds, chile, and togarashi, and stir to combine. Makes enough for 6 salads.

Sesame Rice Crackers
1 1/4 cup rice flour
1/4 cup sweet rice flour
1 cup roasted sesame seeds
3 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
3 teaspoons sesame oil
1 cup warm water

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Mix everything together in a mixing bowl. The dough shouldn't be too sticky and should come together. You can add a little more rice flour if it seems too sticky and wet. Let the mixture sit for five minutes.

Spray a large baking sheet. Take teaspoon size pieces of dough and roll in to balls. Take a small square of oil sprayed parchment paper and press the ball on to the pan. You can use your hands, or you could use a heavy glass. You want the cracker dough to be very thin, but you don't want it to rip. Even if it rips though, it's still tasty. The crackers do shrink a little in the oven - so it's ok if your dough rounds are touching. Bake in oven for around 15-17 minutes. Check to make sure they don't burn. Cool on rack.

Sesame Coconut Bars
Ingredients for the cookie base:
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) raw brown sugar or organic sugar
6 ounces (1 1/2 cups) whole-wheat pastry flour, sifted

Ingredients for the sesame-coconut layer:
1 ounce (1/4 cup) whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup, firmly packed) unsweetened shredded coconut
1 to 2 ounces (1/4 to 1/2 cup) sesame seeds, coarsely ground

Make the cookie base. Butter a 9-by-13-inch pan and line with parchment. Butter the parchment.

Cream the butter with the salt and sugar. Add the sifted flour and blend together. Using your hands, press out the dough over the bottom of the parchment-lined pan in an even layer. Using a fork, make holes all over the surface of the dough (this is called docking). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350˚F.

Bake the cookie base for 20 minutes, until it is just beginning to brown. Remove from the heat and cool for at least 5 minutes before topping.

Sift together the flour and baking powder. Beat the eggs with an electric mixer or whisk until light and thick. Add the honey and vanilla and beat until well blended. Add the flour and baking powder and beat to blend. Add the coconut and sesame seeds and stir together. Spread in an even layer over the cookie base, scraping out every last bit with a rubber spatula. Place in the oven and bake 20 minutes, until the surface is just beginning to color. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before cutting into squares. Makes 18 to 20 squares.

Sesame-Honey Gelato
Gelato is the Italian word for ice cream, but there's not as much fat in gelato as ice cream, so it doesn't coat the mouth in the same way, and the flavors are more intense.

2 3/4 cups whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/8 teaspoon fine salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Set a fine-mesh strainer over a medium heatproof bowl; set aside.

Place 2 1/4 cups of the milk, the cream, honey, corn syrup, sesame oil, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat and cook, whisking frequently, until the mixture begins to steam but does not come to a boil, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the remaining 1/2 cup milk, cornstarch, and dry milk in a small bowl and whisk until smooth and the dry ingredients have dissolved.

When the mixture in the saucepan is ready, whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Reduce the heat to medium low and bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a spoon or rubber spatula until thickened, about 8 minutes.

Pour the mixture through the strainer into the bowl and discard the contents of the strainer. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the mixture to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until completely chilled, at least 4 hours.

Meanwhile, place the sesame seeds in a small frying pan over medium heat and toast, shaking the pan occasionally, until fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and set aside.

Freeze the gelato base in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. While the gelato is still in the bowl of the ice cream maker, fold in the reserved sesame seeds with a rubber spatula. Serve immediately for a soft gelato, or transfer the mixture to an airtight container and freeze until solid. Allow the gelato to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving if frozen solid. Makes about 1 quart.

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