Seasonal Pantry: Sesame seeds add earthy flavor

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It was Revolution Bread that got me thinking about sesame seeds — more specifically, their sandwich-style whole wheat sourdough with a flurry of black sesame seeds on top.

The bread is always delicious, but for some reason I noticed the sesame seeds more than I typically do. They made my heirloom tomato sandwich soar.

Sesame seeds are an ingredient many of us take for granted. Need a teaspoon or so to finish a salad or strudel? If none are on hand, it is easy to assume leaving them out won’t make a big difference. But the assumption is wrong. They add an earthy savor that cannot be duplicated.

Because sesame seeds are high in oil, they can go rancid, especially if they sit in the back of a spice cabinet for – be honest – years. If this is the case with your sesame seeds, toss them in the compost, buy some in bulk from Andy’s or Oliver’s and keep them in the freezer. I always have a bag of white and a bag of black on hand.

These days, we tend to enjoy sesame seeds frequently in hummus, though it is not always understood that sesame seeds are a primary ingredient. True hummus — and not one of its contemporary versions — contains just chickpeas, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and tahini, which is simply hulled sesame seeds ground into a smooth paste. You can make a simple sauce of it in moments simply by adding fresh lemon juice and salt; it is delicious on grilled fish and certain vegetables, especially grilled eggplant.

Like all seeds, sesame seeds contain a great deal of fat, which is extracted to make sesame oil, a flavorful oil essential in many cuisines. Three and a half ounces of sesame seeds contain nearly 600 calories but that shouldn’t alarm you; a typical serving is a teaspoon or less; a teaspoon of sesame seeds contains about 20 calories. Sesame seeds come from a tall (up to 3 feet) annual plant, sesarmum. The majority of what is sold in the United States is grown in Latin America.


If you have been in Sonoma County long enough, you may remember a sweet little Japanese restaurant, Tengu, that took over the space occupied by Cotati’s A Chez Nous when it closed. Tengu’s sushi, sashimi, tempura and other traditional Japanese dishes were beautiful and delicious but, for my palate anyway, the most memorable dish was the coleslaw that began every meal. Cabbage was sliced as thin as a thread or nearly so and the sweet tangy creamy dressing, topped with toasted sesame seeds, was incredibly good. I have been experimenting ever since the restaurant closed, many years ago, to make something similar, and this dressing is the closest I’ve gotten. The two secret ingredients are Kewpie mayonnaise, which you can find in Asian markets, and freshly toasted sesame seeds.

Japanese-Style Sesame Dressing

Makes about 1 cup

3 tablespoons white sesame seeds, lightly toasted

1 tablespoon rice vinegar, plus more to taste

2 teaspoon soy sauce, plus more to taste

2 teaspoons sugar, plus more to taste

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup Kewpie brand mayonnaise

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

2 teaspoons sesame oil

Put the sesame seeds into a suribachi and use a wooden mortar to crush and grind them, leaving about a quarter of the seeds whole. Add the vinegar and soy sauce, stir and agitate the bowl to remove any of the ground sesame seeds from the porcelain ridges. Tip into a small bowl.

Add the sugar and salt and stir to dissolve them. Add the mayonnaise, ginger and sesame oil and stir until smooth.

Taste the dressing and adjust as needed for acid, salt and sugar balance. Cover and chill for 30 minutes before using.

The dressing will keep for 4 to 5 days, covered and refrigerated.

Suggested uses:

On very thinly shredded cabbage, for coleslaw.

On salads of broccoli, cauliflower, red onion, hard-boiled eggs and lightly toasted peanuts.

With cooked and chilled shrimp or roasted chicken on a bed of lettuce, thin rice noodles or both.

Drizzled over sliced tomatoes.

Drizzled over sliced tomatoes and topped with fresh corn, blanched and cut from the cob.


Gomashio is an all-purpose seasoning that is delicious on all Asian rice dishes and many vegetable, egg, fish, poultry and meat dishes. Some people keep it on their dinner tables, next to the salt and pepper. It is sometimes called furikake, though furikake typically includes sugar and dried fish and gomashio does not. It also makes a lovely gift and this recipe is easily doubled or tripled.


Makes about 1 cup

4 ounces white sesame seeds, preferably organic

1/4 -1/2 ounce nori seaweed, preferably local and unprocessed

1 teaspoon kosher salt or other flake salt, plus more to taste

Toast the sesame seeds in a wok or similar pan set over high heat, stirring frequently with a wide wooden spoon, until they begin to pop, take on a bit of color and become fragrant. Do not let them burn. It should take about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl to cool.

Break the nori into manageable pieces and toast it in the same pan, turning the seaweed frequently, until crisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate or bowl to cool. Grind the sesame seeds in a spice grinder or food processor fitted with the metal blade, until about half the seeds are broken into smaller pieces and the other half remain whole. Work in batches as necessary and transfer each ground batch to a bowl. Process the seaweed similarly, reducing it to small pieces but not dust. Add to the bowl with the sesame seeds.

Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the mixture, toss thoroughly, taste and add a bit more salt if needed to suit your palate. Let cool completely.

Divide the gomashio among individual glass jars; 4-ounce canning jars are ideal. The gomashio keeps indefinitely, though flavors are best within the first few weeks.

Variation: For spicy gomashio, add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes, chipotle powder, or similar ground chile along with the salt.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date. Email her at

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