with Sesame Seeds
Yield: 8 to 12 servings
If done properly, these nuts look lacquered and are crunchy and not overly sweet. This recipe was intended for walnuts, but because their skin is bitter, it means boiling and peeling them as a first step—a tedious task. Whole pecans, native to America, work beautifully.
1/4 cup white sesame seeds
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey (lychee honey would be nice)
1/2 cup water
2 cups whole pecans
Peanut oil for deep-frying
Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet, shaking them just until fragrant, and set aside.
Combine the sugar; honey, and water in a saucepan, and boil until slightly syrupy. Add the nuts and cook for a minute or two, then drain in a metal colander.
In a wok or deep skillet, heat 6 cups or more of oil until hot but not smoking. Add the nuts and fry them, stirring to separate. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, then drain in a clean colander. Immediately pour the nuts into a cool clean steel bowl, add the sesame seeds, and stir to coat. Pour the nuts onto a sheet pan and spread to cool. When cool and hardened, they will keep for several days in an airtight container.
Note: If the sugar syrup becomes too thick, the nuts will have a frosted rather than a glazed look; if the frying oil is too hot, they will darken and burn.
Sesame Seeds (Sesamum indicum)
Other names: Hu Ma ("Foreign hemp," Chinese), Goma (Japanese)
Region of use: China, Japan, Korea
A plant can be a staple of Chinese cooking for 2,000 years, which is probably the case with sesame seeds, and still be called "foreign" if it's not native. What the Chinese call "foreign hemp," sesame, is thought to be native to Africa, although some argue for Persia or even India, where it's been under heavy cultivation for millennia. The seed consists of about 50 percent oil, of a kind that keeps well in tropical heat and is fine for cooking.
Like many foodstuffs, the plant traveled from China to Japan. Unique to those countries is the wonderfully flavored amber oil made from toasted and pressed seeds. A day-to-day ingredient in Japan and Korea, the whole seeds are toasted in a dry skillet and crushed lightly in a mortar for tossing in myriad dressings and dipping sauces. The Chinese too use the whole seed toasted, but mostly as a garnish, and less frequently. They do, however, grind them into a paste (see the book).
Black Sesame Seeds
If there's a botanical difference between black and white sesame seeds, no source I've read points it out. Black sesame seeds, and they are jet black, are used whole to dramatic effect as a garnish in both Chinese and Japanese cooking. Toasted and ground to a powder, they're mixed with sugar, yielding a kind of gray dust, to coat certain Chinese sweets—a treat only if you appreciate their taste, which is measurably earthier than the white seed.
Sesame seeds, both black and white, can be purchased in Chinese and Japanese markets in plastic packages of up to 1 pound.
By Bruce Cost
Quill/HarperCollins Publishers, 2000
Black & White photographs throughout
Recipe reprinted by permission.
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This page created November 2000