Open Sesame

by Sanjeev Kapoor

Khul ja sim sim…Ali Baba and the chaalis chor story uses the sesame to open doors…probably because of the energy packed in this little seed! While we enjoy gajak, chikki and rewriyan during Lohri and Sankrant, give a thought to til. Such a little seed but it gives the best of the nuts stiff competition. 

Nutty when toasted, til has a sweet aroma and milky-buttery taste. The burger brigade knows about it too as white sesame tops the burger buns. It comes as an interesting bit of info that sesame seeds undergo a special hulling process, which produce clear white seeds. These seeds are then double washed, dried and used on hamburger buns. This special process allows the seed to stick to the bun while maintaining a white colour after baking. 

Bread, breadsticks, cookies are ideal products for roasted sesame seed. It is a key ingredient in a variety of world cuisines, especially Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean. In my recipe collection, I love to use sesame with honey…in chicken, prawns, fried noodles to make daarsaan. I also appreciate the way the Gujarati preparations use sesame on top of dhoklas, patra, handvo and in some vegetables like chips nu shaak and papri nu shaak… Sesame along with peanuts are used to good effect in the tilli-phalli gravy ever so popular in Hyderabadi cuisine. Sesame also creates the creamy, sweet wholesome tahini which is rich in protein and a very good energy source. 

The oldest spice

Sesame is thought to be one of the oldest spices known to man and is likely the first crop grown for its edible oil. Babylonians used the oil to make sesame cakes, wine, brandy, and toiletries. From as early as 1500 B.C, Egyptians believed sesame to have medicinal powers. The sesame plant, Sesamum indicum, cultivated in Central America, India, Sudan, China and the United States has white, lilac or pink flowers and bears capsule-like seed bearing fruit. The fruit is harvested by hand and the capsules shatter when fully ripe, releasing the seeds. 

So much in the seed

The seeds come in a variety of colours depending on the plant variety, including shades of brown, red, black, yellow and most commonly, a pale grayish ivory. The darker seeds are said to be more flavourful, but beware of seeds that have been dyed. Because of their oil content, sesame seeds have a shelf life of about two years if stored tightly capped in a cool, dry place or in the refrigerator. Sesame seeds contain three times more calcium than a comparable measure of milk. Rich in calcium, vitamins B and E, iron and zinc, sesame is high in protein and contains no cholesterol. Sesame oil, on the other hand, is remarkably stable and will keep for years without turning rancid, even in hot climates. It is most popular in Asia, including Tamil Nadu, where its widespread use is similar to that of olive oil in the Mediterranean. It is excellent for salads and pickles and is used by the Japanese for cooking fish.

Til the end… 

Til is versatile and changes the face of many recipes: top some open toast generously with til and either grill or fry for a crispy, nutty, topping…or take a handful and add to imli til ka pulao…or go traditional and make some tilache laadoo. I still have such fond memories of Lohri in Delhi with the fire crackling away and with every little rewri popped into it as offering, the fire blazing a bit more…til the end. 

Recommended recipesTil Aur Gur Ke Laddoo,  Sesame Vegetables Thai Style,  Paneer Sesame Salad,  Til ke Gajak,  Tilwale Paneer,  Sesame Chicken,  Bundles Of Vegetables In Chilli Honey Sesame Sauce,  Rice Balls With Sesame,  Steamed Broccoli With Three Seeds,  Orange Black Sesame Muffins

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MasterChef Sanjeev Kapoor

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal www.sanjeevkapoor.com is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.