Sowing Seeds of Good Health: Sesame
On a trip to Russia last year, I tried a sweet dessert called halvah. Not sure why I’d never had it in the States, as it most certainly isn’t Russian, but rather is believed to be of Turkish origin. Anyhow, if I didn’t love sesame seeds before trying this little delight, I’d have fallen instantly head-over-heels.
Halvah is a paste of sesame seeds and honey. The variety I indulged was also dipped in dark chocolate, making it akin to a Reese’s Cup, but less sweet and more grown up. It was flat out delicious.
Besides halvah, I love tahini (an important ingredient in hummus), sesame oil, and of course those dark, exotic seeds on many Asian rice dishes. Let’s take a look at the nutrition we’re getting with all that great taste!
Scheherazade spun an enchanting tale about sesame in One Thousand and One Nights, giving the magic words for opening the cave in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Before total ripening, the pods pf the sesame plant are tough and unyielding. “Open sesame”, however, refers to the ease with which the pods burst when they are ripe.
Sesame seeds have been used in the Middle East for almost three thousand years. It’s easy to see why, too, when you’ve come to appreciate their delicate nutty flavor and superb versatility.
However, before they were widely used for eating, the oil was engaged for such varied purposes as fuel for burning in lamps and perfume making. They were also fermented into wine and brandy.
Health Benefits of Sesame
Sesame seeds are 25% protein, which is high for plant foods. Especially important is the abundance of the amino acids methionine and tryptophan. Vegans often lack these two protein components, so adding sesame seeds will help the body create perfect proteins.
Another nutrient often lacking in the vegan diet is zinc. If you frequently consume tahini, you’ll be sitting pretty, since a mere tablespoon of the paste contains over a milligram.
The seeds also contain lignans (like flax), which help to lower cholesterol. If that weren’t enough, they’re also high in calcium, copper, and magnesium!
Copper helps reduce inflammation as well as keeping bones and blood vessels healthy. Magnesium lowers blood pressure, and reduces the frequency of migraines. Calcium is, of course, great for bone health, and helps keep headaches at bay. All in all, this tiny seed is mighty powerful for good health!
The oil is fantastic for cooking, but you need to know that there are varieties. The cold-pressed variety is made from raw seeds and is very light in flavor as well as color. The darker variety is made from roasted seeds. The flavor is strong, and mostly used in small quantities in Asian cooking.
Sesame oil is super soothing to the skin, as is great way to relieve minor burns and sunburn (as is coconut oil). It’s also said to preserve the youth of skin, heading off and even reversing wrinkling. Who doesn’t want that?! The oil is also widely used in massage because it is super emollient.
Sesame seeds are high in fiber and, being so small, move quickly through the digestive tract. They help relieve constipation and stimulate the nervous system. Some say that they remove worms from the digestive tract, as well. Being high in vitamin E, it’s great for the heart. Sesame seeds are great all around!
Isn’t that fun to say, “sesame recipes”? Yeah, I know I’m a geek. We’re starting with a traditional humus recipe. One of the best things about hummus is how versatile it is. You can add roasted red peppers. You can use white beans instead of chickpeas. You can add feta or olives or whatever it is that you love. Here’s a basic recipe to get you started.
Recipe from MyRecipes.com
- 2 (15.5-ounce) cans no-salt-added chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Place beans and garlic in a food processor; pulse 5 times or until chopped. Add 1/2 cup water and remaining ingredients; pulse until smooth, scraping down sides as needed.
Recipe from Cooksrecipes.com
- 1 cup sesame seeds (or substitute 1 cup tahini – sesame butter)
- 2 tablespoons honey
In a food processor or blender process sesame seeds past meal stage into a nut butter. Transfer mixture to a small mixing bowl and drizzle in the honey. Mixture will be very sticky. Press mixture into a small (about 4 x 3-inch) dish which has been lined with waxed paper. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until well chilled. Slice into 1-inch cubes to serve.
Makes about one dozen (1-inch) cubes. For More Vanilla Flavor: Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract with the honey.
Sesame Noodle Salad
Recipe modified slightly from Allrecipes.com
- 1 (16 ounce) package angel hair pasta (preferably whole wheat)
- 1/2 cup sesame oil
- 1/2 cup soy sauce (reduced sodium and naturally fermented)
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon hot chili oil
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds, or more if desired
- 1 green onion, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
Fill a large pot with lightly salted water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Once the water is boiling, stir in the angel hair pasta, and return to a boil. Cook the pasta uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the pasta has cooked through, but is still firm to the bite, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain well in a colander set in the sink.
Whisk together the sesame oil, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, chili oil, and sugar in a large bowl. Toss the pasta in the dressing, then sprinkle with sesame seeds, green onion, and bell pepper. Serve warm, or cover and refrigerate for a cold salad.
Tahini Salad Dressing
Recipe from Allrecipes.com
- 1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste)
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup tamari (dark soy sauce)
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger root
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed
- black pepper to taste
Blend the tahini, olive oil, water, tamari, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, ginger, garlic, and black pepper together in a blender until smooth.