Fall’s fresh sesame spruces up myriad dishes

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Sesame soy milk hot pot is seen with dishes of vegetables and fruit dressed with sesame and mayonnaise in the foreground.

Nutritious and aromatic, sesame is a handy seasoning to always have on hand. Sesame seeds are harvested in autumn, so it’s a good time to delve into sesame’s characteristics and introduce some recipes that best bring out its flavor and texture.

There are three types of sesame — white, black and gold — all of which are high in calcium, iron and other nutritious minerals. One high-profile substance is sesamin, an antioxidant.

According to the Tokyo-based Japan Speciality Agriculture Products Association, the domestic harvest in 2020 was only about 40 tons, which is less than 0.1% of all sesame used, meaning the vast majority of sesame in the domestic market is imported.

“Roasted sesame looks good and has a pleasant texture, and ground sesame is aromatic and easy to toss in with [other] ingredients, while sesame paste has a rich flavor,” said Takehiro Wada, president of the long-established Osaka sesame seed company Wadaman Co., which also cultivates sesame seeds. “It’s good to make use of the characteristics of each type of sesame for cooking.”

Takao Kakihara, chief chef at Japanese restaurant Ajigen and who creates recipes using sesame for Wadaman, shares a recipe of seasonal vegetables and fruits dressed with sesame and mayonnaise.

Fruits, vegetables dressed with sesame, mayonnaise

  • Ingredients (Serves 2):
  • 1 slice of ham

    ⅓ cucumber

    ¼ pear

    20 grams sweet potato

    15 grams shimeji mushrooms

    4 tbsp roasted white sesame

    1 tbsp soy sauce

    1 tbsp sugar

    2 tbsp mayonnaise

    1 tsp sesame oil

    ½ tsp mustard

    Ground black sesame, edible chrysanthemum, as desired

  • Directions:
  • 1. To make the sauce, lightly heat the roasted white sesame in a frying pan and then grind well in a mortar. Add 1 tablespoon each of sugar and soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise and mustard, and 1 teaspoon of sesame oil. Mix well.

    2. Cut the ham, cucumber, pear and sweet potato into cubes 2 centimeters in size. Remove the root ends of the shimeji mushrooms and break them apart. Boil the sweet potato until soft, and lightly boil the mushrooms. Dry with a cloth and then toss all the ingredients with the sesame sauce. Sprinkle with ground black sesame and edible chrysanthemum for garnish.

    When sesame seeds are roasted, they swell and oil seeps out. The sesame sauce retains the moisture of the other ingredients and also makes them fragrant, and the mayonnaise adds richness to the dish. When eating, the sesame flavor spreads throughout the mouth. The sauce also goes well with persimmons, chestnuts, burdock and onions. Kakihara also introduces a sesame soy milk hot pot, a surefire way to warm the body.

    Sesame soy milk hot pot

  • Ingredients (Serves 2 or 3):
  • 100 grams pork loin (thinly sliced)

    ¼ pack of momen firm tofu

    50 grams cabbage

    10 grams mizuna potherb mustard

    ¼ leek

    ½ onion

    ¼ pack shimeji mushrooms

    80 grams white sesame paste

    35cc soy sauce

    40cc mirin

    40cc sake

    30 grams butter

    2 tsp grated garlic

    2 tsp grated ginger

    2 tbsp white miso

    4 cups soy milk

  • Directions:
  • 1. Cut the pork, tofu, cabbage, mizuna, leek and onion into bite-size pieces. Remove the root ends of the shimeji mushrooms and break apart.

    2. Mix the white sesame paste, soy sauce, mirin and sake along with the butter, garlic, ginger and white miso in a blender to make the paste. Pour it into a pot, add soy milk and turn on the heat. When the mixture starts steaming, add the ingredients and boil.

    The aroma of this hot pot is appetizing, and its rich taste is addictive. The paste can be made with a bowl and whisk instead of using a blender. For whisking, slightly melt the butter in a microwave oven before mixing. If the broth is too thick, dilute with water or stock.

    If there is leftover broth, add cooked rice and cheese and serve as a risotto. The sesame paste can also be used as shabu-shabu sauce when mixed with the same amount of ponzu sauce.

    “Sesame enhances the taste of the ingredients,” Kakihara said. “Sesame paste can be used as a secret ingredient, so try mixing it with various dishes.”