Sesame Seasoning Blends
by Kate Heyhoe
On some family tables, a sesame shaker is as natural as salt and pepper. In fact, some cultures blend their salt, pepper, and sesame together as a single condiment in one jar. Others mix sesame seeds with herbs or seaweed. Here's a rundown of some common seasoning blends made from sesame:
Gomashio (Japanese), Kaesogum (Korean)—Sesame salt. Used in Japan and Korea, this is a basic mixture of sesame seeds and salt ground together. The texture ranges from fine to coarse grind, and the ratio of sesame to salt varies. Five parts sesame seed to one part salt is typical for gomashio, which uses black or white sesame seeds. Korean kaesogum generally mixes from eight to fifteen parts sesame seeds to one part salt, using toasted white sesame seeds. You can make your own or buy premade blends in Asian markets. Use as a table seasoning on meats, vegetables, soups, and rice.
Furikake—Rice seasoning (roughly translated from Japanese as "shake and sprinkle"). This dry, crunchy Japanese condiment is mainly sprinkled over rice or soups, but it accents whatever savory dishes it touches. Toasted sesame seed is mixed with flakes of toasted nori (seaweed), salt, sugar, and usually other seasonings. You can make your own, but very good quality blends are sold in Asian markets and even in some Western markets. The wide mouth jars of furikake contain sealed white packets of silicate, to keep the mixtures dry and crunchy (the packets aren't always labeled, so don't mistake them as an edible ingredient and keep them away from children).
The most popular furikake blends contain dried shaved bonito, a type of tuna; this mixture smells like the ocean—it doesn't taste "fishy" as much as it enriches a dish, in the same way that a dash of Asian fish sauce or a pinch of anchovy paste can heighten flavors of other ingredients. Some of my favorite furikake blends, with ingredients listed in order of predominance, include:
Nori Fumi Furikake: sesame seed, salt, sugar, and seaweed. This is the most basic furikake with the simplest, cleanest flavors. I'm not embarrassed to say I enjoy eating this furikake straight out of the palm of my hand. It's slightly sweet and salty at the same time, and a very palatable condiment for children.
Seto Fumi Furikake: shaved bonito, sesame seed, seaweed, potato starch, sugar, salt, soy sauce, dried egg, rice wine. Complex with subtle layers of flavors, this furikake is especially crisp from the shaved dried bonito. It's terrific in salads, soups, egg dishes, rice and on vegetables, adding a contrasting crunchy texture to soft foods.
Wasabi Fumi Furikake: sesame seed, Japanese horseradish, shaved bonito, Japanese mustard plant, sugar, seaweed, soy sauce, salt, rice wine, sugar. Most sushi eaters are familiar with wasabi, the fiery green paste served with sushi and sashimi. This blend contains lovely sea green specks the same color as wasabi, and despite its name, is more mild than pungent, but pleasantly so.
Shichimi (also known as shichimi togarashi)—Think of this condiment as a zesty Japanese all-purpose seasoning, similar to a Lawry's seasoning or a Zatarain's seafood seasoning. The name means "seven spices" and the original shichimi consisted of a mildly peppery blend of ground red chile flakes, sansho or Japanese pepper, sesame seeds, nori (seaweed), dried mandarin peel, hemp seeds, and white poppy seeds. Today, regional differences may result in other ingredients, so the typical small shaker bottles may include black sesame seed, Sichuan peppercorns, black pepper, mustard seeds, or tangerine peel. The Japanese use it on most everything, especially noodles.
Zaatar or Zatar —Unlike the previous sesame blends, this seasoning comes not from the Far East, but from the Middle East. Used extensively throughout the Arabic states, Israel and the Holy Lands, zaatar is both a seasoning blend used in cooking fish, poultry, and other dishes, and as a tabletop condiment. Diners customarily dip torn pieces of flatbread into olive oil, and then into zaatar. The blend varies according to cook and locale, but essentially it contains toasted sesame seeds, ground thyme, salt, and sumac. Sometimes marjoram or oregano is added, or a pinch of allspice and ground nuts.
Goda masala —India excels in the complex use of spices in various blends, known as masalas. These masalas combine numerous ingredients, including toasted spices, grinding them into pastes and powders to be added to foods as they cook, or rubbed on beforehand. As such, masalas are more of a cooking ingredient, rather than a table condiment. Goda masala hails from the tropical west coast of India and is one of the few masalas that includes sesame seeds, along with coconut, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, and other spices. Indians use it to flavor lentils, vegetables, and rice.
Copyright © 2003, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created April 2003