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I Spice: Sesame seeds

Does cayenne cause you to cry? Or has cooking with oregano ever caused you to have post traumatic stress disorder? Tell Monica Bhide about your best spice/herb disaster stories for possible inclusion in an upcoming I Spice blogpost. Send your note here. Please respond by Feb. 1, 2010, and be sure to include your name and hometown.

Open Sesame.

Come on! You know me well enough by now to realize I couldn’t resist starting with that famous phrase. Sesame seeds are one of the oldest flavoring ingredients known to man. They are prominent in Asian and Middle Eastern dishes, yet native to East Africa and Indonesia. The seeds were possibly brought to the Western Hemisphere by slaves. They are popular as “benne” in Southern candies and cookies, Elsewhere, they show up on bagels and broiled tuna.

Recipe Included

I spoke with the very talented Silicon Valley food writer and blogger Cheryl Sternman Rule about her love of sesame seeds. “I eat a lot of bagels, and I think I emerged from the womb predisposed to sesame ones. Something about the seed’s delicate flavor and friendly little crunch has always appealed to me,” she says.

I can identify with that: Sesame brittle was one of my most favorite childhood candies.

While sesame seeds come in various colors (white, black, red), the most commonly used are black or white. Purchase them in bulk if you like, but I advise against it. The seeds are high in oil and can go rancid quickly, Rule says. So buy in small quantities and be sure to do a taste test before each use. I ruined a dish of honey-broiled chicken once because I topped it with seeds that had turned.

Now the fun part: ways to use them, courtesy of Rule:

Open Sesame breakfast: Add sesame seeds to buttermilk pancakes, and tahini to maple syrup. (Cheryl Sternman Rule)

* Toasting seeds in a moderately hot oven releases some of their oil and intensifies their flavor, as does warming the seeds in a dry pan on the stove until they color a little. Either way, stir them frequently so they don’t burn.

* Use tahini (sesame paste) in a Middle Eastern–style dressing for salads or falafel.

* Black sesame seeds are a nice alternative to white ones. They provide a contrast to the white rice in sushi.

* Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on broccoli and other green vegetables to add a subtle sesame flavor and delicate crunch.

* Finish stir-fries with a drizzle of sesame oil. Use it sparingly, because the flavor is intense.

I do have to share one wonderful new use I learned. I had never heard of gomasio until I posted on Twitter that I was looking for information on sesame seeds. Cookbook author Robin Asbell wrote: "I'm hooked on gomasio, the toasted sesame seed condiment. It is just ground coarsely with salt, but adding some spice and nori bits is fab, too. Makes a bowl of brown rice into a meal." I am now the proud owner of several jars and couldn’t agree with Robin more. Iit is addictive.

-- Monica Bhide

Sesame Flapjacks With Tahini-Maple Syrup
Makes 10 to 12 pancakes

The quick tahini syrup in this recipe brings out the sesame flavor in these unique buttermilk flapjacks. Adapted from Cheryl Sternman Rule.

For the syrup
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon tahini (sesame paste)

For the pancakes
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted, plus more for garnish (see NOTE)
1 tablespoon cornmeal, preferably medium-grind
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon low-fat buttermilk
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 tablespoon tahini

For the syrup: Whisk together the maple syrup and tahini in a small bowl. If desired, pass through a fine-mesh strainer to reduce cloudiness; the syrup will be slightly cloudy. (Feel free to make extra syrup, using 1 teaspoon tahini for each 1/4 cup maple syrup.)

For the pancakes: Whisk together the flour, sesame seeds, cornmeal, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.

Whisk together the egg, buttermilk, melted butter and tahini in a separate bowl. Add to the flour mixture, whisking lightly to combine. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom of the bowl so the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated; do not overmix.

Heat a cast-iron griddle or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until it is hot enough that water drops on it immediately sizzle and evaporate. Coat with nonstick cooking oil spray.

Use a 2-inch scoop to create pancakes on the hot griddle or skillet. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side, until golden brown and cooked through.

Serve hot with butter and the syrup; sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.

NOTE: Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring or shaking them frequently, just until fragrant and lightly browned.

Per pancake (based on 12, with syrup): 107 calories, 3 g protein, 15 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 135 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  January 8, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  I Spice , Recipes  | Tags: I Spice, Monica Bhide, recipes, sesame seeds  
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Next: Speaking of sandwiches . . .


They're also great for cutting the heat in a peppercorn crusted steak (tuna or beef). Mix whatever proportion of pepper and sesame seeds you like (50/50 for me) and roll the steak around in them before searing.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | January 8, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Who needs the bagel? I always go straight for the seeds left on the plate.

Posted by: BehindTheKnife-com | January 8, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

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