Showing posts with label oil. Show all posts
Showing posts with label oil. 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!

Oct 18, 2016

Perfume Review: Ajmal's Ragheeb


Perfume Review Ajmal's Ragheeb attar perfume oil fragrance ajmal

With a slight nip in the air and the steamy rains of the Monsoon finally gone, Autumn has finally arrived. Now's the season to break out those warm, woodsy orientals and delectable gourmands from your fragrance wardrobe. Ajmal's 'Ragheeb' is one of my favorite oriental floral fragrances for the Fall.

The late Mr Ajmal Ali, founder of Ajmal perfumes. 
For those of you unfamiliar with Ajmal it is a luxury perfume house started in the 1950's in India by Mr Ajmal Ali. Mr Ali was a native of Assam where some of the best agarwood or oudh is sourced. Moving to Bombay (now known as Mumbai) he began by selling Assamese oudh to Arab countries. Eventually he began mixing perfume oils into brilliant compositions and became a premier supplier of perfumes to the Middle East. In 1976 the House of Ajmal moved it's headquarters to Dubai. In 1987 Ajmal was the first company to introduce the classic Dahn-Al-Oudh (literally fat of the wood) in an eau de parfum form bringing to a to wider, global audience. (Yes, Ajmal's Dahn-Al-Oudh eau de parfum started the Western world's craze for oudh that's still raging on presently.) The fine tradition Mr Ajmal Ali started in India in the 1950's has been carried on now for 3 generations of his family. Today Ajmal is represented by over 100 boutiques and showrooms across the Gulf countries and is quite popular in Russia too.


So, in and amongst the myriad traditional Arabic oudh and rose attars on offer at a posh boutique in the Bahrain airport in 2006 I found 'Ragheeb.' Instantly, this scent brought memories I couldn't quite place. Late Summer and early Fall mornings in northern California in a traditional Arab attar? That's what it reminded me of. The 'Ragheeb' means willing or desirous in Arabic. Ajmal's description of the fragrance and notes:
"This exotic bouquet opens with the floral essence of bergamot and rose creatively infused with spicy hints of saffron, nutmeg and clove, interspersed with geranium. The fragrance highlights aromatic, warm and contemporary base woody yet sweet notes, for that long lasting trail.
Fragrance Description
Top: Floral Citrus
Heart: Spicy
Base: Woody Ambery"



Ragheeb opens with a bittersweet blast of saffron after which the nutmeg, bergamot, rose, geranium, and cloves seamlessly appear. You might look at the note pyramid and wonder where the woods and amber are. Saffron this intense takes on a woodsy, ambery effect with an almost masculine tobacco-like tone. The spiciness of the cloves bolsters the warmth of the saffron. Bergamot and nutmeg brighten the composition with their citrusy notes and keep the saffron from going completely leathery, metallic, or dark. The rose is the classic deep and intense Taif rose so prized in Arab culture. Real Taif rose oil isn't very long-lasting on the skin so typically geranium is added to prolong it's presence. The famed Taif rose has tea-like notes but can have peppery or even sharply tannic edges. To Western noses the Taif rose can often be perceived as harsh and soapy. You might think the intensity of the saffron and the harshness of the rose would make the composition come off as acrid or astringent. It doesn't. Ragheeb perfectly emulates the uniquely warm, spicy, myrrh-like fragrance of certain old rose varieties. The bergamot, nutmeg, and rose are unfortunately first to go in this scent after about two hours. The drydown is gorgeously Autumnal as the saffron mellows to an almost honeyed amber and rich aromatic cloves remain for hours.

Photo from the Taif Rose festival in Saudi Arabia
That was it! When I lived in California in the 90's I began collecting David Austin's English roses in my garden. Not only for their gorgeous forms and color but I particularly loved the strength and complexity of their warm old rose fragrance with varying touches of myrrh, clove, musk, fruit, and tea. Somehow the saffron, bergamot, cloves, rose, geranium, and nutmeg in this attar captured that old rose scent perfectly. Mr Austin's pink and apricot colored rose cultivars were particularly known for their spicy, myrrh-like notes similar to the fragrance of Ragheeb.

'Constance Spry'
This was the grande dame that started it all. David Austin's first commercially available rose, 'Constance Spry.' Mr Austin's emphasis is on breeding roses with the character and fragrance of old roses such as gallicas, damasks and alba roses but with the repeat-flowering ability, disease resistance, and wide color range of modern roses such as hybrid teas. 'Constance Spry' was the incredible twelve foot climbing rose that graced the arched trellis over my front door in California. Richly myrrh scented she was supposed to only bloom once in Spring. I found that through rigorous deadheading she would keep blooming for about 3 months. Her spicy, warm, almost resinous old rose scent would grace my doorway along with her heavily cupped blooms. I had a collection of about 20 different David Austin roses interspersed with various lavenders, lavandins, yarrow, and a few Italian cypresses in that garden.


As you can see in the above photos Ragheeb comes in an opulent glass bottle with gold ornamentation and a scattering of sparkling white stones. (This is rather modest as Ajmal bottles go, some are like miniature fairy palaces or daring pieces of modern sculpture.) The bottle has some considerable heft as well as a delicate glass applicator. To use attars or fragrance oils like this you simply dab a few drops to the inside of each wrist. Then dab a little behind each ear with the inside of your wrists before it absorbs. You may also apply to the back of the knees so the fragrance envelops you. Attars and fragrance oils take a bit longer to develop on the skin than alcohol based perfumes. Wait at least an hour for the fragrance to develop before reapplying if necessary. I find Ragheeb lasts about six to eight hours with moderate sillage. Although I bought this bottle about ten years ago I believe this fragrance is still available for purchase as I've seen it on Russian websites. These Arab attars last for years and are not nearly as prone to degradation due to heat or light as alcohol based perfumes. As you can see in the above photo I probably have another ten years of use out of this bottle even though I wear it at least once weekly in the Fall and Winter. A little dab will definitely do with this type of fragrance.

I think I need a pink burqa like that.
And a hammam. Definitely a hammam.

Ragheeb makes me desirous of the late Summer days in northern California. The leaves were starting to fall, the grapes in the vineyards being harvested, the roses and other scented plants in my garden were at their most fragrant. I don't really miss California except for the gorgeous weather. The foggy days of Autumn would soon start and the holiday season would begin with all the festivals, food, and fun. Ragheeb is the last bloom of my old rose collection in the Fall before being tidied up and tucked in with a blanket of mulch for the coming Winter.

Do you have any favorite fragrances that remind you of certain times of the year?

Sep 21, 2016

Bisbas Khudra (Yemeni Bell Pepper Chutney)

Bisbas Khudra  Yemeni Bell Pepper Chutney capsicum chili bell pepper cumin yemen easy recipe simple coriander

This zingy hot sauce recipe hails from Yemen. Khudra means green and bisbas means something spicy. Vibrant with the piquant flavors of peppers, cumin, coriander and garlic this chutney-like recipe packs a punch! Whip this delicious vegan dip up in minutes to accompany everything from tandoori to falafels.


A Yemeni friend I've known for years gave me this recipe a while back. Traditionally, it is made with a mortar and pestle but you know Bibi's going to run it through the mixie. I served it on Eid with the mutton and chicken kebabs we made on the barbecue and it was a hit! It works just as well as a vegan chutney with rice, rotis, and dal too. It's a great way to use up all those capsicum (bell peppers) that are in abundance this time of year in every market or garden.

Ingredients:
2 large bell peppers/capsicum, cleaned of seeds and pith and chopped roughly
2 to 3 hot green chilis/hari mirch
2 to 3 cloves of garlic/lahsun
1 to 2 dried red chilis, stems removed (or 1/2 tsp Kashmiri mirch or cayenne powder)
1/2 tsp cumin/jeera seeds
1 tsp ground coriander/dhania seeds
2 TBS olive oil or oil of choice
1 tsp salt

Here's what to do:
1) Blend or grind all ingredients to a smooth emulsion in mixie, blender, food processor, or mortar and pestle. Salt to taste and keep in refrigerator in airtight container until ready to serve.

Bisbas Khudra  Yemeni Bell Pepper Chutney capsicum chili bell pepper cumin yemen easy recipe simple coriander


Bisbas Khudra  Yemeni Bell Pepper Chutney capsicum chili bell pepper cumin yemen easy recipe simple coriander

Helpful Hints:
If you find you've made this recipe too hot for your liking just stir in a few tablespoonfuls of yogurt to bring the heat down.

Feb 29, 2016

Ingredients: Mustard Oil

Mustard growing wild in the neighbors' winter wheat.

Mustard oil is traditionally used in many of the cuisines of South Asia.  It's distinctive pungent flavor is easily recognizable in the spicy pickles called "achaari" that are popular throughout the Indian subcontinent. Mustard oil is also used for deep frying pakoras and as a general cooking oil in many Desi cuisines. 

Bibi's infrequently used bottle of mustard oil.
Mustard oil is produced by grinding the seeds of the black mustard plant (Brassica nigra), the brown mustard plant (Brassica juncea), or the white mustard plant (Brassica hirta). Mustard oil's pungent flavor is due to the presence of allyl isothiocyanate, all plants in the Brassicaceae family such as horseradish, wasabi, cabbage, and turnips share this potent organosulfur compound's flavor. Along with it's sharp, nutty aspects there's really no way to describe the flavor of raw mustard oil without comparing it to the nose watering and rather caustic notes of wasabi and horseradish.

Brassica hirta or white mustard
The very same mustard that blooms throughout my native California in February  & March
Mustard oil has high levels of alpha-linolenic and erucic acids. While alpha-linoleic acid is one of the two essential fatty acids necessary for health, erucic acid is toxic in high doses. Studies done on rats in the 1970's demonstrated the cardiotoxic effects and perhaps some carcenogenic potential with high erucic acid intake. However, it has since been found that rats digest vegetable oils differently than humans. There have never been any documented reports of harm to humans due to high erucic acid via dietary intake. Mustard oil is not allowed to be imported or sold in the United States for use in cooking due to it's high erucic acid content.

Mustard seeds being ground for oil in India.
In order to reduce mustard oil's pungent flavor many cultures of South Asia heat the oil to smoking point in large quantities to "crack" it. I've seen this done in my Kashmiri relatives' homes. Not only does it terrify me to have a huge pot of smoking oil over a gas flame, the smoke produced is highly irritating to the eyes and airways. When I wish to reduce the pungent flavor of mustard oil I just dilute it with ghee or some other cooking oil. For pickles or achaari the pungent flavor of mustard oil is essential so there's no need to crack it. The use of mustard oil has significantly decreased in South Asia as other vegetable oils have become cheaper and more widely available.

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