Vegan Grandma

Monday, December 11, 2006

Taratour Sauce (Tangy Sesame Seed Sauce) and Some Interesting Things About Sesame Seeds

I made the following quick spread today when a friend came by unexpectedly. Thia is definitely quick and easy. It took about 5 minutes to make. We ate it on crackers, but it also can be used as a spread for hot pita bread quarters, as a dip for raw vegetables, or poured over falafel. I thought it was very good, and my friend seemed to really enjoy it. It’s adapted from The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two, by Anna Thomas, published 1978 by Alfred A. Knopf, New York. My adaptation was to use a blender instead of mixing everything by hand, making it quicker and easier.

Taratour Sauce (Tangy Sesame Seed Sauce)
makes 2 cups

1 cup tahini

3 large cloves garlic, crushed or finely minced

½ cup fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt
½ cup cold water

Place all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Add more water, a tablespoon at a time, if needed. The sauce should be the consistency of mayonnaise.

Some Interesting Things About Sesame Seeds

Sesame seeds are tiny, flat oval seeds with a nutty taste and a delicate, almost invisible crunch. They come in a host of different colors, including white, yellow, black and red. The white sesame seeds are the most commonly used it the United stares. White sesame seeds have a nuttier flavor, and black sesame seeds taste more bitter. However, whether a recipe calls for white or black seeds often has more to do with the appearance of a dish rather than flavor.

Sesame is one of the oldest seeds known to man. Sesame seeds have been grown in tropical regions throughout the world since prehistoric times They are thought to have originated in India or Africa, and the first written record of sesame dates back to 3,000 B.C., there is an Assyrian legend that when the gods met to create the world, they drank wine made from sesame seeds.
The addition of sesame seeds to baked goods can be traced back to ancient Egyptian times from an ancient tomb painting that depicts a baker adding the seeds to bread dough.

Sesame seeds were brought to the United States from Africa during the late 17th century.

"Open sesame," the famous phrase from the Arabian Nights, refers to the fact that the sesame seed pod bursts open when it reaches maturity.

Currently, the largest commercial producers of sesame seeds include India, China and Mexico.

Sesame seeds are rich in manganese, copper, and calcium and contain Vitamin B1 (thiamine) and Vitamin E (tocopherol). They contain powerful antioxidants called lignans, which are also thought to be anti-carcinogenic. They also contain phytosterols, which block cholesterol production. The nutrients of sesame seeds are better absorbed if they are eaten after grinding them.

Although sesame leaves are edible, recipes for Korean cuisine which call for "sesame leaves" are often a mistranslation, and really mean perilla.

Buying Sesame Seeds

You can buy hulled (the hulls have been removed) and unhulled (the hulls are intact) sesame seeds. Products containing the seed hulls might have more oxalates than desired on a low oxalate meal plan. Oxalates may interfere with calcium absorption. Product labels do not always say whether the hulls have been removed or not, so check the color. Hulled sesame seeds are almost white, and the unhulled ones are beige. Most sesame seed butters made from whole, non-hulled seeds are fairly dark in color and have a much more bitter taste than butters made from hulled sesame kernels. Most tahini (sesame seed paste) is usually made from the seeds without hulls.

Sesame seeds are available in prepackaged containers as well as bulk bins. Just as with any other food that you can purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins containing the sesame seeds are covered and that the store has a good product turnover to ensure freshness. Make sure there is no evidence of moisture. Smell those in bulk bins to make sure they do not smell rancid.

Storing Sesame Seeds

Unhulled sesame seeds can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place. Once the seeds are hulled, they are more prone to rancidity, so they should then be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Keep sesame seeds in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Toasting Sesame Seeds

White sesame seeds are nearly always toasted before using. There are differing opinions over the toasting of black sesame seeds. Black sesame seeds tend to become bitter when toasted.

To toast sesame seeds on the stove top, put them in a dry skillet and toast over low heat, shaking the pan often until the seeds are fragrant and golden brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer immediately to a plate so they do not continue to cook in the hot pan and become dark and bitter. When sesame seeds are being toasted, they sometimes pop out of the pan. A screened top or an inverted mesh sieve will prevent this. Do not use a solid lid because this would trap the stead causing the seeds to become soggy.

For oven toasting, preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread the seeds out on a baking sheet. Bake until the seeds brown and become fragrant, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the toasted seeds to cool.

Using Sesame Seeds

Use toasted sesame over steamed vegetables, in salads, stir-fries, or rice.

If using sesame seeds on baked goods, add them raw. The seeds will toast in the oven during baking.

Sesame seeds are the main ingredients in both tahini and the Middle Eastern sweet treat, halvah.

Sesame seeds are used in many Asian cuisines, Indian dishes, and Japanese vegetarian cooking.
In China, sesame seeds are used to flavor cakes, cookies, and popular desserts such as sesame seed balls and fried custard. Both black and white sesame seeds are used in Chinese cooking. (A third variety of beige colored sesame seeds is not as popular).
Chefs in tempura restaurants blend sesame and cottonseed oil for deep-frying.

Tan and black sesame seed varieties are roasted and used for making the flavoring called gomashio. You can either purchase gomashio at a health food store or make your own by using a mortar and pestle. Mix together one part dry roasted sea salt with twelve parts dry roasted sesame seeds.

Sesame paste is added to sauces, and delightfully aromatic sesame oil is used to flavor everything from dips to marinades.

Add unroasted sesame seeds into the batter the next time you make homemade bread, muffins or cookies.

Sesame seeds add a great touch to steamed broccoli that has been sprinkled with lemon juice.

Spread tahini (sesame paste) on toasted bread and either drizzle with honey for a sweet treat or combined with miso for a savory snack.

Combine toasted sesame seeds with rice vinegar, tamari and crushed garlic and use as a dressing for salads, vegetables and noodles.

Sesame Oil

Sesame seeds were one of the first crops processed for oil. There are two kinds of sesame oil. Dark sesame oil is aromatic, thick, deep amber in color, and strongly flavored. It is used for flavoring. The paler cold pressed sesame oil is used for cooking. The lighter oil is found in Indian cooking, while Asian countries favor the darker variety.

Sesame oil is a popular ingredient in Chinese cooking. The Oriental oil is pressed from toasted sesame seeds. The non-roasted sesame oil you sometimes find in supermarkets and health food stores is not a good substitute for the sesame oil used in Oriental cooking.
Some supermarkets sell toasted sesame oil that is mixed with less expensive oils such as canola oil. This dilutes the toasted sesame flavor. Japanese brands of pure toasted sesame oil are a safe bet.

Keep sesame oil in the refrigerator. It may become cloudy when chilled, but it will clear up when it reaches room temperature.

Try adding a little dark sesame oil (just a little, too much will create too strong a flavor) to marinades, salad dressings, or in the final stages of cooking. When using toasted sesame oil in cooking, add the oil at the end of the cooking time. If cooked too long, toasted sesame oil loses a lot of its flavor, and it burns easy.

Recipes often call for a few drops of sesame oil to be drizzled on a dish just before serving.

Besides its use in cooking, sesame oil is found in holistic preparations for everything from treating infections to stimulating brain activity. It is also believed to contain antioxidants.


Tahini is a paste made of ground sesame seeds and is used in many Near and Far East recipes. You can purchase it prepared in most markets. Do not confuse tahini with sesame butter which is denser, stronger-tasting , and is made from roasted and pressed unhulled sesame seeds. Also do not confuse tahini with Chinese sesame paste, which is made of roasted, ground sesame seeds, and tastes very different from tahini.

Keep tahini in the refrigerator for up to one year.

You can buy tahini in natural food stores, Middle Eastern groceries, and in ethnic sections of some supermarkets.

The oil sometimes separates and rises to the top of the jar like peanut butter does. Just stir the oil in.

You can make you own tahini. Here is a recipe:

makes ½ cup
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup tepid water

Process sesame seeds in a blender until smooth. Add sesame oil, salt, and then slowly add 1/4 cup of water while blending. Blend until completely smooth. It should have the consistency of peanut butter.

Sesame seeds turn rancid quickly, so make certain yours are fresh. Be sure to store them away from light and heat and use quickly.


Brilliant Food Tips and Cooking Tips, by David Joachim, published by Rodale

Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, by the Moosewood Collective, published by Simon and Schuster, Inc.

The Spice and Herb Bible, A Cooks Guide, by Ian Hemphill, published by Robert Rose, Inc.


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