Condiments You’re Going to Love: Starting With Sesame Salt

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From time to time, people come to me with a question which goes like this: “I’m trying to eat a more natural, whole foods diet, but sometimes it gets a little dull.  What can I do to perk it up?”  You could perhaps interpret this entire blog as an attempt to answer that question, but today I want to focus on condiments, little bits of seasoning you apply at the table. And the condiment I highlight couldn’t be simpler: sesame seeds toasted with a little salt and then ground. We call it sesame salt or by its Japanese name, gomashio (go-mah-she-oh, goma= sesame, shio=salt). There are at least a couple of reasons we prefer sesame salt to plain table salt. First of all, it delivers a lot more flavor per gram of sodium. Secondly, sesame seeds are highly nutritious, containing as they do iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, and calcium, along with thiamine and vitamin E.

Here’s how to make sesame salt: 1) Rinse 1/2 cup unhulled brown or black sesame seeds in a fine mesh strainer and shake dry. 2) Heat a cast iron or similar thick-bottomed pan and pour in the seeds along with 1 to 1  1/2 teaspoons good quality sea salt. 3) Toast this over low heat, shaking or stirring constantly, about five minutes or until the seeds smell aromatic, turn a slightly darker color and begin to pop. 4) Grind with a mortar and pestle until about 75 % of the seeds are ground. 5) Cool, then store in a container with a lid. No need to refrigerate. Sesame salt will keep for weeks, but you’ll probably use it before then.  Sprinkle on rice, other grain dishes, noodles, even toast. Adjust the amount of salt to suit your taste. If you double or triple the recipe, it will take longer to toast the seeds. Yes, if you make a larger batch, a food processor works great, but using a mortar and pestle is more traditional and more fun.

Variations: Change up this recipe by substituting other seeds: flax, sunflower, pumpkin. Another variation: toast pumpkin seeds in a 325˚ F oven just until they begin to smell great and look a little golden, then sprinkle them lightly with umeboshi vinegar and toast for a few minutes more, or until they are dry. Watch closely! Chop coarsely in a food processor–an incredibly tasty condiment.

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Photos–Top: Grinding sesame seeds and salt with a mortar and pestle. Above: Toasting sesame seeds and salt in a cast iron skillet. Every kitchen needs one!

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8 responses

  1. Thanks for the Condiment idea and a better use for salt as a substitute. Now what’s up with my sweet potato pie recipe?

  2. Thanks, Gary! I love gomashio and have been buying it in a shaker at Whole Foods. But I am sure the fresh version is much better, and it does sound fun to make! Now that we will be having pumpkins, thanks as well for the instructions on roasting pumpkin seeds. This sounds really good to me! Cheers!

  3. Thanks so much, Gary! Since greens are in season and amazing right now, the Gomasio will help bring out the sweetness and vivacity (vivaciousness?) of our favorite superfood. You make it sound so easy, almost as easy as bringing some home from the dinners. Fresh gomasio smells like a nutty version of heaven to me… xoxoxo

  4. Hi Jen,
    Thank you for the great Gomashio recipe, it is delicious!
    I also like to use black sesame seeds (avail. oriental markets).

    Concerning sesame seeds wonderful nutritional profile, many people don’t know that it is one of the highest sources of CALCIUM on the planet!
    Hulled seeds have more bio-available CALCIUM than non-hulled.
    I have found store bought tahini and sesame butter to be more oily & liver stagnating than making your own, and its less expensive to boot. Perhaps because it has been sitting on the shelf and has lost its vital chi.
    Sesame Milk, Or Spread:
    I soak hulled seeds overnight, drain and rinse and blend with water into a wonderful nourishing milk to be used:
    on top of a creamy hot cereal for breakfast with maple syrup, cinnamon, a dash of vanilla, and a few soaked cashews or almonds,
    in a smoothie,
    or a sauce,
    or as a dip/spread if less water is added to the blender, then season with freshherbs etc. for savory spread or sweets (rice syrup, maple syrup), & spices for a sweet spread.

    Just don’t add any fruits or dried fruit with any protein rich spread or food as they don’t digest well at all, ( food combining ).
    For sweet flavor think: rice syrup, or maple syrup instead of fruit with protein.

    Enjoy,
    Emily

  5. I forgot to mention that using a grooved suribachi (japanese mortar and pestle) works so much faster than my marble mortar and pestle.

  6. I like to toast my pumpkin seeds in a cast iron skillet with just a touch of toasted sesame oil!! YUMMY!!! makes a fantastic topping for squash soup.

  7. I have made this recipe twice: once with brown sesame and once with black sesame. Both times it took me way longer than five minutes to get any toasting action on the seeds. Are you sure about that “low” setting? I keep inching up the gas until it’s closer to medium. After 30 minutes, I’m still stirring. I wonder if it’s because of this that the sesame doesn’t ever reach the popping point either. But I will keep experimenting. I think the first step about rinsing the seeds is causing the problem. I’ve never done that step before.

    • Gail, How long it takes, of course, depends on the amount of seeds you are doing, and the size of your pan. Maybe try a larger pan with more surface to heat up, or toast them in several batches. If the seeds are in direct contact with the surface of the pan, they’ll toast pretty quickly. Also, drain the seeds really well in a fine mesh sieve. Maybe I should have said medium/low heat, but stoves vary so much. Perhaps try a higher heat at first until the seeds dry out, and then a lower heat to toast them. When the seeds are dry, however, they can burn easily and that’s why I’m cautious about recommending high heat. Goma shio is such a great condiment to have on hand, I commend you for persisting in trying this recipe. Let me know how your next batch turns out. Gary

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