We love sesame seeds in biscotti and cakes, added to ramen, or rounding out an everything bagel. But the mild, nutty seeds are versatile enough to make their way into a wide range of unexpected applications. We polled the pros on how they incorporate sesame seeds into all things sweet and savory. Here are some of their favorites.
Roasted Grape and Sesame Granola
Chef Lisa Garza-Selcer's passion for Southern culture and its culinary heritage stem from her upbringing in the Mississippi Delta, which serves as the inspiration for her Dallas restaurant Sissy's Southern Kitchen & Bar and the upcoming Shelby Hall.
I love using sesame seeds in granola, in place of more traditional almonds or walnuts. The flavors balance especially well with roasted fruits like figs or grapes. People don't often consider roasting grapes, but I like to take the a bunch (still on the stem), drizzle them with olive oil and kosher salt, and roast them in a low 200°F oven. Then I combine the grapes with an oat-based, sesame-studded granola; it's great for tossing on yogurt.
Flavorful Crudo Base
As executive chef of Orchids at Palm Court in Cincinnati, Todd Kelly manages the seasonal, locally-sourced menu of French-inspired dining. Kelly won the 2011 American Culinary Federation USA Chef of the Year, is one of only six Hilton Signature Chefs in the United States and, under Kelly's direction, Orchids at Palm Court has been named a Forbes Four-Star Restaurant for three consecutive years, a "#1 Restaurant" by Cincinnati Magazine.
We like to put a pound or two of sesame seeds on the top shelf of our smoker when we're hot-smoking other foods. We let the seeds go until they're toasted and smoky, and then purée them with miso, lime juice, and a little yuzu for a flavorful cross between tahini and peanut butter. We use it as a base for a lot of our crudo and sashimi dishes—we take fattier fishes like mackerel or tuna and then marinate them in complementary flavors like roasted garlic with a drop of truffle oil and some lime juice. Then we'll serve the fish over that sesame purée.
Chef Daniel Eddy, formerly of Spring in Paris, is the chef of Rebelle, a French restaurant on New York's Bowery. Pulling inspiration from his time at Spring, Daniel has created a menu at Rebelle that references classic French dishes and technique and uses market-fresh ingredients.
My mom is from Nicaragua and I grew up there, but when we moved back to New York, we started eating a macrobiotic diet—my maternal grandma was diagnosed with cancer and we all made the change for health reasons. One of the things we started eating was gamazio, which is a Japanese seasoning of slowly-toasted sesame seeds ground with sea salt (it's a rough ratio of 12 parts seed to one part salt). It has a buttery, oily, salty, sweet flavor that I love to this day. It's been fun to put it on different vegetables—a fatty salt with an underlying nuttiness.
Jessica Perez, pastry chef at the Empty Stomach Restaurant Group, is a pastry aficionado, Zumba addict and the perfect complement to the exuberant (and a little bit wild) San Antonio trio of Barbaro, Hot Joy, and The Monterey.
I make savory sesame crackers that taste just like Ritz crackers. You combine softened butter with a tiny amount of powdered sugar, and then add flour, ground sesame seeds, sesame seed paste, and egg whites (It's around 100 grams of butter, 30 grams of sugar, 100 grams of butter, and 100 grams of egg whites, with enough ground sesame seeds and paste to pull it all together). Just roll the dough out on parchment paper, cut it into crackers with a cooke cutter, and bake them until they're golden-brown. We pair them with a Big Mac-inspired dish of beef tartare.
Sweet Honey Paste
As the Chef de Cuisine of Journeyman in Somerville, Tru Lang helms a carefully designed experience extending from menu to beverage pairings to service. Tru and his skilled kitchen staff conceive the night's lineup collaboratively, with each person contributing ideas for full dishes or elements of dishes in keeping with the tone and direction of the evening.
I'm especially partial to sesame seeds in combination with honey. If you toast them and mix them with a little honey and put them in a blender, they make a sweet, nutty paste that goes wonderfully on top of ice cream or desserts. Toast them, add enough honey to cover the seeds, and blend it until you get a really thick sauce. You can use it as-is or thin it out with water for a more drizzle-friendly sauce—it's kind of like a sweet tahini.
Sarah Gavigan is the chef/owner of the ramen pop-up shop Otaku South, the upcoming Otaku Ramen—Nashville's first dedicated ramen shop—and POP Nashville, an incubator for new restaurant concepts and her guest chef dinner series [CITY] Meets Nashville. Gavigan's also the organizer of the 2nd largest ramen festival in the nation, Xtra Large, where ramen masters and world-renowned chefs from all over the country meet in the South.
I had an average relationship with sesame seeds until I started cooking Japanese food. But the more I experimented at home, the more I began to make a connection between the cultures of soul food in Japan and the American South. The latitude of middle Tennessee is the same latitude as central Japan, so a lot of produce that grows in my neck of the woods also grow there.
There's one Japanese preparation in particular that I fell in love with and I started play around with—goma-ae. The word itself means "sesame seed," but in practice, goma-ae is hand-ground with miso and a little vinegar. I guess you could liken it to a Japanese take on tahini, but it has a pronounced umami quality that really sets it apart. Every Japanese home cook has her own version of goma-ae, but there's a simple base ratio of three parts sesame seed to two parts miso to one part vinegar. It's the kind of condiment you can easily adjust to taste and use on pretty much anything.
In the fall, I make my goma-ae with barley miso so that it's toasted and roasted and has a deeper seasonal flavor. In the summer, I make it nice and bright, and toss parboiled green beans in it. I've also used it as the base for cold noodle dishes with some spice and dashi (dashi is always a way to add flavor to everything). Myy favorite traditional application is with boiled and squeezed spinach—in Japan they boil and squeeze it into a square on your plate, and place dollops of goma-ae next to it. I've even served it as a side condiment for steak, which isn't traditional but brings a huge punch of umami. It's savory, salty, a little sweet, and it has an amazing quality of bringing an entire dish together.
Chef James "Mac" Moran was recently a partner and executive chef at Rusty Mackerel, a new American restaurant in New York's Washington Heights. A New York Times Critics' Pick Chef and Irish Echo 40 Under 40 Honoree, Moran is now the executive chef for Benchmarc Restaurants by Marc Murphy.
Halva's a sweet little sesame-based snack that we use as a garnish for some of our desserts. We start by grinding black and white sesame seeds with a little oil to make a tahini-like paste. Then we bring sugar to a soft ball stage, blend in the tahini paste, and sometimes add a little coffee. We spread the halva on a sheet, cut it into squares, and then toss it in almond flour since it can be pretty sticky. We shave it over ice cream or use slices as a garnish.
Toasted Ice Cream
Thiago Silva is the pastry chef at EMM Group's Catch in New York's Meatpacking district. He is a 2015 Dessert Professional Top 10 Pastry Chef, and recently won the Food Network's Chopped, donating his winnings to C-Cap (Careers for Culinary Arts Program).
When it comes to pastry, there's a lot you can do with sesame seeds. They're great for adding flavor and richness to desserts, and their oil has a nice full-bodied flavor. One of my favorite uses is to make ice cream with them. Toast up the seeds in a pot and, when you get that roasted smell, add some dairy (I like to add milk along with egg yolks for richness) and a little sugar. I let it steep until the base has acquired a distinct toasted sesame flavor before straining and spinning it. You can also make a sesame tuile to garnish.
"Nutella" Ice Cream
Chef Charles Zhuo started cooking at Austin's Barley Swine in February 2013 and has worked his way up to the title of co-sous chef. With co-sous chef Bradley Nicolson, he creates a 14-course tasting menu based on what local farms have available. Zhuo also oversees fermentation projects from fish sauce to yogurt to tempeh.
Since sesame seed paste has such a high oil content, you can use it just like any nut butter. I love to use it in place of hazelnut butter in a play on Nutella ice cream. The beauty of this recipe is that sesame seeds also contain a lot of soluble fiber, so you don't need to add many hydrocolloids to the base and it's not too hard to make at home.
To start, combine 80 grams of toasted sesame seeds with 30 grams of toasted sesame oil. Then blend it until it turns into a smooth-ish paste, add in 580 grams of water all at once, and continue blending until it becomes fully emulsified. Add 170 grams of sugar, two grams of xanthan gum, and four grams of salt, and once again blend the mixture until it's fully emulsified. Then, while constantly stirring, warm it on a stove until it's simmering (it will thicken up a lot). Next, remove it from heat and let it cool down to around 140°F before pouring it over 140 grams of dark chocolate and processing it in the blender. Add two grams of vanilla extract (it's easier to work with in this application than whole vanilla bean) and strain it all through a sieve. Chill it and let it mature in the fridge for around eight hours, and then churn it up. It has this really pleasant, slightly chewy texture from the chocolate, which is nice. The oils in the sesame are going to make the texture a little harder, so usually we add trimoline to lower the freezing point.