Anyone who has read my blog through all four seasons for at least a month regularly once knows that I really (really) hate the cold weather. And while autumn also heralds delicious root vegetables, warming spices, Thanksgiving and Halloween, to me it’s just the precursor to winter. Bah! To help mitigate the chill this October, Kim of Affairs of Living and I present you with another Sweet or Savory Kitchen Challenge–this time, with a special twist. So read on, learn about our latest key ingredient, and join in on the fun!
Now, you’ve most likely heard or read about at least one of the “superfood” seeds currently being touted all over the internet: flax, chia, hemp. And while all three are wonderfully nutritious and offer all manner of health benefits, they sometimes overshadow the more common specimens that are equally healthy in their own right. This month, we’re focusing on one of those better-known seeds:
Sesame seeds are inexpensive, delicious, packed with nutritional benefits–and available year-round. In other words, a perfect ingredient for our first SOS Challenge of autumn!
According to one of my favorite websites, World’s Healthiest Foods, sesame seeds (sesamum indicum) “may be the oldest condiment known to man dating back to as early as 1600 BC.” One Assyrian myth, in fact, claims that the gods drank sesame wine right before they created the earth. They are also considered to be the first seed that was cultivated specifically for their unique taste and are the most cultivated seed at present. And who is not familiar with the common expression, “open sesame”? The term refers to the manner in which the seed pods burst open when the seeds are mature, and was introduced in the classic legend by Ali Baba in the Thousand and One Nights.
These tiny, oval gems (available in a varietyof shades from beige to brown to red to black) are also a highly nutritious food, one that is a staple in most vegan households because of their high calcium content. Tahini (sesame paste) or nondairy milk made with sesame can add a valuable boost to your calcium intake. In fact, sesame seeds offer up a good variety of other minerals, too: they’re considered a “very good” source of manganese and copper, plus a “good” source of magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc and dietary fiber. In addition, they contain two types of lignans (sesamin and sesamolin), antioxidant-like substances known to help stave off all kinds of chronic illnesses, from high blood pressure to liver damage; and they can help lower cholesterol levels.
And they’re not just for hamburger buns any more! Sesame seeds lend themselves to all kinds of cooking. Like many seeds and nuts, they can be lightly toasted to bring out their optimum flavor. If ground to a paste, they produce tahini, a key ingredient in all kinds of Middle Eastern foods from hummus to falafel. I also love using it in place of nut butters in much of my cooking, from sauces to desserts. They’re also the key ingredient in one of my favorite seasonings, Japanese gomashio, which I sprinkled here.
It’s worth noting that our digestive tracts are unable to break down the outer hull on the seeds, so whole seeds will serve only as a source of insoluble (unabsorbed) fiber and will pass through your system intact. To benefit from the sesame oil inside the seeds, they need to be cracked or ground.
Whole seeds can be stored at room temperature for several weeks; or freeze for longer storage periods. Once the hull is cracked, however, the seeds must be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. An exception is sesame oil, which is incredibly stable and resists rancidity even over long periods of time and changes in temperature.
And now to make this month even more fun. . .
For the first time, October’s SOS event will feature a guest sponsor–and prizes! Our sponsor (sorry, BlogHer stipulates that I can’t write about them on my main page) is generously donating ELEVEN prizes! That’s right: the first ten entries will each receive a bag of organic sesame seeds, and one lucky (random) winner will win a $50 shopping spree to buy their own choice of healthy products. To enter the giveaway, you’ll need to register before linking up below (see details here), or you can simply share a recipe as you always have before without registering. The challenge will run until October 31st. (Please follow the usual SOS guidelines for recipe ingredients.) As always, at the end of the month we’ll post a roundup of all the recipes and showcase a few favorites.
Yep, autumn just keeps getting better and better. . .