Food of the Week: Sesame Seeds

My appreciation for sesame seeds has been growing slowly but steadily over the past few years. They’re still not a food that leaps to mind when I’m considering what might be good to eat, but I find myself cooking with them more and more often. One of my favorite ways to enjoy sesame seeds is with a simple vinaigrette of toasted sesame oil and rice wine vinegar. It is incredibly flavorful, even without any salt, herbs, or spices.

One ounce of whole sesame seeds contains about 160 calories, 13 grams of fat (mostly unsaturated), 4 grams of fiber, and 5 grams of protein. Sesame seeds provide certain B vitamins and several minerals, notably copper and manganese as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. The phytosterols they contain are thought to help manage cholesterol levels and enhance immune system functioning.

Tahini, a paste made from sesame seeds, has a similar nutritional profile to the whole seeds. One difference, according to, is a lower amount of calcium when hulled seeds are used, as is usually the case.

Smashed Edamame
and Potatoes with
Sesame and Soy

A pleasant side dish from Mark Bittman.

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 c. edamame, fresh or thawed frozen
2-3 T. soy sauce
2 t. dark sesame oil
2 t. toasted sesame seeds
Salt and pepper to taste (opt.)

Boil the potatoes in water to cover until soft, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in another pot, bring about 1 quart water to a boil; add the edamame and cook for 5 to 7 minutes. Drain the edamame, transfer to a food processor or blender, and pulse until roughly chopped (do not purée). Drain the potatoes when done (reserve a bit of their cooking water), add the edamame and soy sauce, and smash the potatoes with a masher or wooden spoon (it should be fairly chunky). Add the sesame oil and seeds, and if the mixture is still too dry add a little of the reserved potato water. Taste and add salt and pepper if desired.

Sesame-Crusted Tofu

From the Mayo Clinic Cookbook.

1 lb. extra-firm tofu, drained
 c. milk
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
1 t. salt
 t. pepper
3 T. plain dried bread crumbs
2 T. white sesame seeds
1 T. black sesame seeds
1 t. sesame or canola oil
12 green onions, ends trimmed, halved crosswise

1. Cut the tofu crosswise into 12 slices. Place in a large frying pan over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes on each side. Transfer to a plate and let cool, draining any liquid from the pan.
2. In a bowl, whisk together the milk, egg whites,  t. of salt, and pepper. On a large plate, combine the bread crumbs, sesame seeds, and remaining  t. salt. Dip tofu slices in the milk mixture, then dredge in the crumb mixture.
3. In the frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Arrange the tofu slices in the pan and cook, turning once, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and keep warm. Add the green onions to the pan and sauté until they begin to brown, 3-4 minutes. Divide the onions among individual plates and top each serving with a portion of tofu steaks.

Notes: Use 3 T. of one color sesame seeds (black or white) if you like. Also, if you prefer firmer tofu, you can press it before preparing it. Mark Bittman’s instructions: Cut the tofu in half and put the halves on four sheet of paper towels, then cover with another four sheets. Cover with a can of food or similar weighted item (1-2 pounds). Let sit for a few minutes, up to 30, changing the towels if they become saturated.

Sundried Tomato
Zucchini Dip

A nice variation on hummus with chickpeas. From Ani Phyo.

2 c. zucchini, chopped
2 cloves garlic
Juice of 1 lemon, about 2 T.
 c. extra virgin olive oil
 c. tahini
1 t. salt
2 T. fresh parsley leaves, chopped (or 1 T. dried)
1/3 c. sundried tomatoes, chopped
Pinch paprika

Process the zucchini, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, tahini, and salt until smooth. Pour mixture into a bowl and stir in parsley and sundried tomatoes. Set aside and allow tomatoes to soak up moisture for about 10 minutes or longer. Stir well. Sprinkle a pinch of paprika over the dip just before serving, and drizzle with a bit of olive oil if desired.

Sesame Chicken

Modified from a Joy of Cooking recipe. You could also use boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but I find they’re usually more expensive.

2 large bone-in chicken breast halves, skin on
 c. tahini or smooth peanut butter
2-3 T. toasted sesame oil
2  T. light soy sauce
1 T. distilled white vinegar
1  t. to 1 T. hot chili oil, or to taste
2 t. minced fresh ginger
1 t. sugar
5-6 green onions, finely chopped
1 medium cucumber, halved, seeded, and shaved or cut into -in. slices

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Add the chicken. When the water returns to a boil, turn the heat down to low and simmer the chicken until no longer pink, 8-10 minutes. Remove to a plate and let cool.
2. In a medium bowl, thoroughly combine the tahini and sesame oil (enough oil to liquefy the tahini). Add the soy sauce, vinegar, chili oil, ginger, sugar, and green onion. Remove the chicken skin and bones, and tear the meat into rough shreds. Place in a serving bowl. Pour the sesame sauce over the chicken and mix to coat.
3. If desired, cover the chicken and cucumbers separately and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature before serving. To serve, pile the cucumber slices on top of the chicken.

A special thanks to my sister Sheila and brother-in-law Matt for helping me with this column.