Showing posts with label food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label food. Show all posts

May 21, 2018

Ingredients: Sesame Seeds, Til, Tal, Tillu, Teel, Gingelly, Gingili, Gingilli, Semsem, Simsim


Sesame seeds are believed to be the world's oldest condiment, and one of the first recorded plants used for its seeds. For thousands of years, sesame seeds have been an integral part of the cuisines of northern Africa, the Middle East, and across Asia. Even today, sesame seeds are used worldwide for  nutritional, medicinal, and industrial purposes.



Archaeological findings suggest sesame was first domesticated in the Indian subcontinent around 5,500 years ago. Sesame was cultivated during the Indus valley civilization where it was the main oil crop. Sesame oil was probably exported to Mesopotamia as early as 2500 BC. The genus Sesamum has many species, most are wild and found in northern Africa. Sesamum indicum is the cultivated variety that originated in India. Sesame seeds are such a part of India's history that they are revered by Hindus as droplets of Lord Vishnu's sweat.  The domestication of sesame was favored by its ability to grow in areas that do not support the growth of other crops. It is a robust crop that needs little tending. The sesame plant will tolerate high heat and drought conditions or excessive rain and moisture. Its hardy nature allows subsistence farmers to plant it along the edge of deserts and other marginally arable areas where no other crops will grow.

Scheherazade probably saying "Open al-juljulan!" not "Open sesame!"
The etymology of the words used for sesame seeds is just as ancient and interesting as the plant.  In India, where sesame has been cultivated since the Harappan period, the words for sesame derive from the Sanskrit root tila (तिल.) Therefore you hear sesame called til in Nepali, Punjabi, Bengali, Hindi and Urdu. In Gujurati sesame is called tal and in Telegu tillu. The English word sesame is derived from the Greek sesamon which appears to be a borrowed word from ancient Akkadia. European words for sesame like ajonjolí in Spanish, gergelim in Portuguese, ġulġlien in Maltese, and the now archaic English word gingelly are derived from the Arabic al-juljulan (الجلجلان). In the American South, you will hear sesame seeds referred to as benniseed or benne seeds. This is because benne is the word for sesame seeds in the Bantu dialect of the West African slaves brought to the United States.

Flowering sesame plant
Sesame plants are actually quite beautiful. They have attractive dark-green leaves and tubular flowers similar to foxgloves that can be white or pale pink. Mature plants can grow 3 to 6 feet tall depending on the variety. The seeds are collected from the dried seed pods at the end of the growing season.

Immature sesame pods
Seeds are ready for harvest when the pods turn brown and begin to crack open slightly. The seed pods at the bottom of the plant will often be ready to harvest while the flowers toward the top of the plant are still in bloom, necessitating multiple harvests toward the end of the growing season.

Dry, ripened, & dehisced sesame pods
The sesame pod or capsule only explodes open when the seeds are completely ripe in a process called dehiscence. Dehiscence time tends to vary, so farmers cut plants by hand and place them together in an upright position to continue ripening until all the pods have opened. The dried stalks can also be used as cooking fuel. I have read that before World War I about 30% of American households used sesame oil as their primary vegetable oil for cooking. Unfortunately, the intense manual labor required to harvest sesame seeds became its downfall in most western countries. Today, the American fast-food chain McDonald buys 75% of Mexico's sesame seed crop to top it's hamburger buns.

Bundles of sesame plants cut by hand to dry, note the pods still on the dry plants.
Since sesame has such tiny, flat, and compact seeds, it is difficult to dry after harvest. The small size and shape of the seed makes the movement of air around the seed difficult. The seeds need to be harvested when as dry as possible and stored at 6% moisture or less. If the seed is too moist, fermentation and rot can begin.

Unhulled sesame seeds on the left and hulled sesame seeds on the right
After harvesting, the sesame seeds are normally cleaned and hulled. Hulling the seeds makes them less prone to going rancid and results in a less bitter flavor profile. In some countries, they are passed through an electronic sorting machine that rejects any discolored seeds to ensure perfect color. This is done because sesame seeds with consistent appearance are perceived as better quality, and sell for a higher price. Immature, discolored or off-sized seeds are removed and used for sesame oil production.


Sesame seeds occur in many colors depending on the cultivar. The most preferred variety of sesame is an off-white color. Other common colours are buff, tan, gold, brown, reddish, gray, and black. The color is the same for the hull and the fruit.

Sesamol- natural antioxidant found in sesame oil
Sesame seeds are composed of 5% water, 23% carbohydrates, 12% dietary fiber, 50% to 60% fat, and 15% to 18% protein. Whole sesame seeds are also rich in several B vitamins, vitamin K, iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and zinc. Sesame oil has significant resistance against oxidation as a result of containing endogenous antioxidants including lignins and tocopherols. This combination of powerful natural antioxidants and lack of triple unsaturated fats give sesame oil a long shelf life. The byproduct or sesame seed meal that remains after oil extraction is so rich in protein (35-50%) that it can be used as feed for livestock.

Sesame & peanut chikki

Sesame seeds and oil are used extensively in India. Currently, India remains the world's second largest producer of sesame oil and seeds. Nearly every region of India has a unique sweet made of sesame seeds mixed with melted sugar. The candies are made into balls, bars, or clusters and have a delightful crunch similar to peanut brittle. Chikki is a popular treat all over India made of melted jaggery and various nuts and seeds or puffed rice as a flat bar. Sesame chikki is called til ki chikki in Hindi. In Assam, black sesame seeds are used to make ball-shaped  treats called til pitha and tilor laru during the festival of bihu. In northern and southern India sweet sesame balls called pindi in Urdu, ell urundai in Tamil, ellunda in Malayalam are eaten during the festival of Makar Sankranti and at weddings.

South Indian dry chutney called podi

In the cuisines of the southern Indian regions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala sesame oil and seeds are used extensively. A powdered chutney called podi made of ground sesame seeds, urad dal, chickpea, dry chilis is often served as a condiment with idli and dosa. After serving the podi is mixed with a little sesame oil to make a paste to be used as a dipping sauce. I've also seen sesame seeds dry roasted and ground to make gravy for curries in South India.

Traditional sweet Nepali dumpling called yomari

Nepalis use sesame seeds in a variety of savory vegetable chutneys, potato dishes, sweet laddoos, and a sweet dumpling called yomari. As with most Nepali sweets, yomari are only made and eaten for special holidays such as Purnima or Yomari Punhi. The steamed dumpling is made out of rice flour dough shaped like a fish and filled with a mixture of sesame seeds and chaku. (Chaku is jaggery or raw sugar that's been cooked down to an almost molasses-like dark caramel. ) The rich and sugary filling of yomari is quite the delicious contrast to the tender rice dough shell. I've only seen Nepalis using sesame oil for shallow or deep frying traditional sweets and samosas. They like to use sesame oil diluted in a ratio of 1:3 with a flavorless oil like sunflower seed or soy oil just like the Japanese do for frying tempura.


For culinary use, sesame oil is available in light and dark versions. The pale yellow or golden oil is pressed from raw sesame seeds resulting in a high smoke point and is thus suitable for use as a frying oil. Light sesame oil has a mild, nutty flavor. The dark amber or brown oil is pressed from sesame seeds that have been roasted and has a rich, aromatic flavor. Dark sesame oil also has a  lower smoke point and is unsuitable for deep-frying, it can be used for stir-frying of meats and vegetables or to cook omelets. East Asian cuisines often use roasted sesame oil for seasoning or as a condiment.

I just went and bought a kilo bag of sesame seeds for about $2 USD. I'm all jazzed to try my hand at making all sorts of sesame treats for Iftar this Ramadan from tahini to laddoos! How about you?


Ramadan Mubarak!

Mar 6, 2017

Tips & Tools: Some Like It Hot!

Well, I really wasn't talking about fiery chilis or spicy heat.


No, no, NO! Not the movie Some Like It Hot (1959) either. Although that is my favorite movie. How could you go wrong with an all star cast (Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon) and Billy Wilder's brilliant script and direction? If you haven't seen it, SEE IT!

Bibi's cooking - FIRE IN THE HOLE!!!
I'm talking about food temperature! When we were first married my Indian husband would complain about the food I served being too hot. "Why so hot!?!" I looked at him absolutely bewildered as I proudly put a piping hot dish on the table. That just boggled my American brain. The objective of getting the food as hot as possible to the table was something that I'd just never questioned about my Western culture. With the exceptions of certain foods like salads and ice cream why are we Westerners so obsessed with our food being served so hot? And why do Indians not want their food served sizzling hot?


Well, duh Bibi. Indians eat with their hands! Nobody wants to stick their hands into scorching hot food. Traditionally, the fingers are used to determine the temperature of the food as well as combining flavors. In fact, there is a Hadith in Islam that warns there is no blessing in food that is too hot. Ayurvedic practices too recommend eating food that is warm or at room temperature for optimal health. 


So where did this Western notion of the hotter the better for certain foods come from? After all we Westerners eat certain foods with our hands. Fried chicken, pizza, french fries, and hamburgers are all eaten commonly with hands and are served hot. A tepid cooked item tends to induce unease in the Western palate. A lukewarm temperature suggests that the food has been languishing, possibly festering, or has at best been poorly reheated. I actually like cold fried chicken and pizza but a congealed burger and fries is truly icky.


Apparently this fetish for piping hot foods began with the 19th century trend of higher social classes' dining styles switching from the service à la française to the service à la russe in Western Europe. The service à la française (literally service in the French style) began in the 17th century and evolved over the next 150 years. A formal dinner served à la française would have a variety of hot and cold dishes all set on the table at one time before the diners arrived. The diners would then seat themselves and enjoy the dishes communally. The great disadvantage of this à la française style of service was that hot foods often became cold before it was even time for the diners to eat. Contrast this to the service à la russe (literally service in the Russian style) in which dishes are brought out sequentially in courses and served individually. Dishes such as roasts served à la russe were prepared in the kitchen then sent out to the table whilst still hot, similar to a Western style restaurant today. And so the rush to get hot food from the kitchen to the table was on! (Service à la russe also gave way to the Western fascination with the esoteric and redundant cutlery you see in the above photo too. No one ever heard of a salad fork or dessert spoon before service à la russe became en vogue.)


I thought it would have more to do with Western cultures preferring their foods served hotter due to colder climates or something more mundane. I am certain fast food commercials in the West have reinforced the notion that hot equates to fresh. It probably doesn't occur to the average Western consumer of such items that their hot food item is hardly fresh at all. In reality it was probably lurking in the walk-in freezer for months previously to being served. Come to think of it, most all foods Westerners eat with their hands are rather informal and cheap foods. Perhaps that's part of the disdain Westerners have about eating with their hands?


Anywho, be sure to serve your Indian guests warm food not sizzling hot. It doesn't matter if your guests are seated at a table, on flimsy plastic chairs at a wedding, or on the floor aside a dastarkhaan. I'm not going to go into the details of how to properly eat with your hands as I still can't do it. Always eat with your right hand even if you are a lefty though. (Although you can use your left hand to pass dishes or to serve or drink water.) If you don't feel comfortable eating with your hands don't feel embarrassed if you need to ask for a spoon, special requests are usually welcomed at an Indian dinner table.


There are some things that are traditionally served quite hot on the Subcontinent though. Momos are a juicy, stuffed dumpling popular in Nepal but often found as a street food all over India now. Freshly steamed momos taste best served piping hot  arranged pleated side up on a warmed plate. Yes, momos are eaten with hands only also. Nobody wants cold or lukewarm momos! 


Chai or milky tea must always be served scalding hot. No matter if the weather is oppressively humid, swelteringly torrid, or blisteringly broiling. Your chai must be served positively burn-your-mouth and cauterize-your-tonsils HOT! We Americans like our coffee served about the same temperature as molten lava too. Be forewarned the majority of times your chai will be pre-sugared to syrupy sweetness. Actually it's becoming fashionable to serve sweeteners on the side so that guests may adjust it to their tastes. But it better be HOT!


So always remember, some like it hot!!!

Please be doing the needful,
Bibi

Nov 28, 2016

Happy Holidaze....

A whopping 14 inch poinsettia flower atop the neighbors' 8 foot high tree. (Yes, poinsettias are trees here!)

Oh, it's that most wonderful time of the year! I'm certain there were some INTERESTING family chats over Thanksgiving dinner in America after this year's election. I hope you survived Black Friday. I know when I lived in the US I'd go into self imposed exile from Black Friday until mid January as the frenzied holiday shopping put me in a less than festive mood. Thank Allah for internet shopping, eh?


In other news, it was my husband and my blog's birthday last week on the 25th too. Above you see the coconut tres leches cake I made hubby for his birthday. (It had to be a sheet cake as it needed to travel so pardon the awkward crop.) And yes, over 90,000 views and 188 posts later I'm still blogging!


I've had a lot of fun learning about blogging and food photography. I'm sure my readers are very happy to see my photography progress from the atrocity you may witness above. (Really, Bibi, what were you thinking? Could that photo be any more over exposed and over saturated? What's up with that angle? The dish looks like it's tipping over! The yellow's dialed up to near oblivion! The focus is on the garnish fergawd's sake! ) To the less atrocious photo you see below-


Yay! I've improved. If you peruse the internets you'll see a lot of abandoned blogs. Apparently bloggers who continuously improve are less likely to give up blogging. It doesn't seem to matter how slowly you improve, as long as you IMPROVE. A lot of food bloggers leave the photos from their early posts to show how much they've progressed in the quality of their photography. Eh, I don't know. Some of my early stuff I think I need to reshoot (and have) because the photos are so bad no one would ever try the recipe! And those recipes are really good! Plus, the idea of this blog was to put my recipes in writing with attractive photos so I can publish them in a book for my relatives and friends later on. I'm really liking photography, maybe someday I'll get a REAL camera instead of just using my smartphone? 


In other news, India's demonetization scheme is still a mess. Tourists in India are now only allowed to exchange 5,000INR a week. (That's a meager $73USD!) To add to the fiasco the federal banking authority of Nepal declared last Friday that Nepalis should not accept the new Indian 2,000 or 500 INR notes as they have not determined if they are legal or not yet. So I wouldn't advise visiting India for quite a while! If you're not carrying Indian rupees though- Nepal's not having problems so come and visit! 


Here's a 4 pm local traffic jam at our crossroads involving a tourist bus, a school bus, six buffalo, and a truck unloading gas cylinders. Last year at this time there was an ongoing political border blockade between Nepal and India so you would have seen hardly ANY vehicles as petrol was scarce. The gas cylinders you see in the above photo were being rationed as a result of the blockade too. What few gas cylinders that got through the blockade were rationed and therefore chained together with name tags on them. This year there's no rationing and no problems! You'll be happy to know those water buffalos eked their way between the oncoming school bus and the tourist bus.


Just so you don't think it's all rocks and livestock roaming the streets here - this is one of our local 5 star properties, the Himalayan Front HotelThe hotel is nestled in the perfect location of Sarangkot with magnificent mountain views from every luxurious room. There's plenty to do if you tire of lounging around the pool! Hiking, paragliding, zip flying, birdwatching, souvenir shopping, or a cultural tour of the local village are all just minutes away.


Just look at that view! Amazing, huh? 

That's all the news that's fit to spit around here, stay sane during these Happy Holidaze!

Bibi
xox
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