Friday, August 29, 2008

Gomasio/ Sesame Salt Condiment

Gomasio is a traditional Japanese condiment made from toasted ground sesame seeds and salt. The words "goma sio" mean "sesame salt". The subtle nutty flavor of the toasted seeds adds delicious depth to rice and vegetable dishes. For those eating a plant based diet, gomasio is an essential versatile condiment which will enhance and add variety to your meals.

Sesame seeds are among the oldest cultivated oil bearing seeds in the world and are integral to many cuisines including those of Asia, the Middle East, and Mexico. Sesame provides generous amounts of several essential nutrients such as copper, iron, magnesium, manganese and phosphorus. A single tablespoon of whole sesame seeds contains 1.6 grams of protein and 88 milligrams of calcium.

Toasting the seeds brings out their complex, satisfying and habituating flavor. I always keep a jar of whole sesame seeds in the fridge so I can quickly make a batch when the gomasio impulse arises. Although it is possible to purchase commercially made gomasio, it bears little resemblance to the homemade variety, as once the oils are released from the seeds through grinding they begin to break down and become rancid.

It is traditional to grind the sesame seeds by hand with a wooden pestle in a special grooved ceramic bowl called a "suribachi". If you don't happen to own one, you may use a (very clean) electric coffee grinder. Or take a trip to Japantown and buy an inexpensive suribachi. There is a great pleasure in the small act of slowly hand grinding a bowl of fragrant sesame seeds in a peaceful kitchen.

Gomasio Recipe:

1/2 cup whole sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or more to taste)

Carefully toast seeds in a heavy skillet over a medium flame. Shake the pan or stir seeds with a wooden spoon, paying attention to the changing color and developing fragrance of the seeds. Once the pan gets hot, the seeds will toast very quickly. Be ready to pour the seeds into the suribachi or a ceramic bowl as soon as they darken; they will burn if left in the hot pan.

Grind seeds with sea salt in suribachi until about half the seeds are ground; the final product should be a mixture of ground and whole seeds. If using an electric grinder, pulse a few times and don't over grind. Allow gomasio to cool, then store in a glass jar in a cool place. The shelf life of gomasio is brief; I usually make small batches which will be used up within a week or two.

Note: The amount of salt called for in gomasio recipes varies greatly. I prefer a low salt method. It's possible to make a salt free gomasio if you wish to avoid sodium; simply toast and grind the seeds alone.