Oh, the things you can make with a sesame seed
It's the seed that's got everyone talking, and eating.
Grind them up for tahini. Turn them into halvah for a fun dessert. Make a brittle candy popular in Greece called Pasteli. Sprinkle them atop all manner of dishes, from salmon to bagels to sweet breads and cakes. Is there anything you can't make from a humble sesame seed? Indeed, this seed has all sorts of uses you might not even know about, and foods you might not even know were made with sesame seeds.
The same process by which the peanut turns into peanut butter, by extracting the oils within and mashing to a paste, is what turns sesame seeds into tahini. The spread is incredibly versatile and nutritious – it's a good source of calcium, iron and dietary fiber.
In North Africa, Greece, Israel and the surrounding area, tahini is an essential part of the diet. It is eaten on its own, used as a garnish and condiment, and added to foods such as hummus and baba ghanoush. It's even garnered the attention of Forbes Magazine, which just named Jackie and Amy Zitelman, founders of Soom, to their 30 Under 30 ranking. The Philadelphia-based tahini company really took off after James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Solomonov, of Zahav and Dizengoff fame, began making his signature hummus with Soom tahini.
It looks like some sort of cake-fudge mashup, and its flavor is ... well, it's fantastic. It's no secret that this is one of Israel's favorite treats, and in the U.S., it's steadily becoming a neat little novelty. There's even a shop in New York City devoted entirely to foods made from sesame seeds, and halvah is the big star. It's called Seed + Mill, and From The Grapevine staff writer recently paid it a visit – and filmed the entire thing.
Seed + Mill has mouth-watering, show-stopping halvah – and you can also make halvah at home quite easily, using our recipe.
It's been part of the Greek diet for thousands of years. In fact, you might have eaten one, or seen one at a bakery or open-air market, and not even known what it is. They're called Pasteli, and there's really not much to them: sesame seeds, honey and maybe some peanuts. Depending on the flavor combination, Pasteli have a consistency ranging anywhere from crispy to chewy. You can also find a version of this candy in Israel, often made with date honey. And there's a version of the candy made in India with jaggery, a form of sugar from Asia and Africa.
If it's topped with sesame seeds, you know it's going to be good. It's like an earthy, nutty cherry on top of your bread, bagel or pastry. In Jerusalem, you'll find this seed smothering a massive, golden-brown bread that's sort of half pretzel, half bagel. They're called, appropriately, Jerusalem bagels.
Our recipe provides you with the authentic just-barely-sweet, sesame-rich flavor of bake shops in the historic city, with a crisp crust and distinctive soft interior. For best results, eat while they're hot.
A large portion of Asian cuisine is cooked in sesame oil. The essence of the seed is not always enough. So what to do? Top it with sesame seeds, as in this broccoli dish above. The possibilities just soar from there, from steak-wrapped string beans to sesame broccoli (two versions, here and here) to salmon salad.
MORE FROM THE GRAPEVINE:
Related Topics: Healthy eating