What’s the famous password to the cave of riches?
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I wonder if Ali Baba realized his infamous phrase was very much based on truth. As a sesame plant reaches maturity, it’s pod bursts open, and the seeds inside are scattered.
My goodness, I had no idea what fascinating treasures these little seeds really are. Not only do they have an interesting history that dates back to prehistoric times, but they’re incredibly good for us as well
The sesame plant is native to West Africa, although it’s been grown in tropical regions throughout the world since prehistoric times. In some circles, they’re even believed to have originated in India, as the seeds are considered to be a symbol of immortality within the Hindu religion
They found their way to the U.S. from Africa during the late 17th century, along with the slave trade
To date, I hadn’t thought of them much beyond the context of a topping for bread, buns, or bagels. (A third of all the sesame seeds grown in Mexico are used by McDonald’s for their sesame buns!)
The reality is they have uses far beyond bread sprinkling. In fact, the majority of the world’s seeds are cold-pressed to make oil, which is highly stable and can take heat and humidity without turning rancid.
Seeds straight out of the pod can be red, black, brown, or yellow. Once they’re hulled, they’re the creamy white color we’re familiar with here in the U.S. Eating white hulled seeds isn’t the norm everywhere. For example, if one journeyed to the Middle East or India, you’d more than likely be served a combination of unhulled black and/or white.
I couldn’t help but wonder. If sesame seeds are cooked with so frequently in other parts of the world, what are some of the more popular dishes? In India, the black and white sesame seeds are referred to as gingili and are used in rice pilafs, sauces, and stuffings. On the sweeter side is tilkut
The Middle East specializes in halva, or a type of dense, sweet confection made from compressed ground sesame seeds and sweet syrups. They also have tahini, of course, tahini, which we use to make hummus. They also use tahini as a dip or spread and often pair it with chickpea patties (falafel) or the seasoned eggplant dish called baba ghanoush
In Mexico, sesame seeds are used frequently in mole recipes or complex sauces that are the hallmark of so many regional dishes.
I’m happy to say they also found their way into our kitchen this week, via sesame chicken made in the slow-cooker. I don’t have the stomach anymore for classic take-out, with it’s fried batter and oily/sugary sauce. Here, boneless chicken thighs are cooked low and slow in a tangy and sweet sauce.
This recipe is a fantastic and healthy alternative; it really is. Lending all of the flavor without taxing the digestive system.
It also fun to experiment with coconut aminos, which is essentially coconut sap, frequently used in place of soy sauce in Paleo cooking. We found it to be surprisingly good and will definitely be using it again.
But wait you ask, what about all of the ways sesame seeds are good for your health?
ps: You can read more about sesame seeds in Part II of this short series
If you’re debating between chicken thighs or breasts, I’d encourage you to go with the thighs. They have a bit more fat and will be more forgiving in your slow cooker (breasts can become dry if cooked too long)
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~ Adapted from Against All Grain by Danielle Walker
Slow-Cooker Sesame Chicken
- 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or breasts)
- ⅓ cup coconut aminos (or low-sodium soy sauce)
- ⅓ cup honey
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 2 Tbsp orange juice
- 2 ½ tsp minced garlic
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp cracked black pepper
- toasted sesame seeds and/or sliced green onions
- In a small bowl, whisk together the sauce ingredients
- Rinse the chicken and trim any excess fat. Place in the slow-cooker. Pour sauce over chicken, flipping each piece to ensure all sides are coated.
- Cook on low for 4 hours
- Remove the chicken and cut into bite-size cubes
- Remove the sauce and transfer to a small saucepan. Over medium heat, let it simmer for 20 minutes, or until it has reduced by half and is thick and shiny.
- Toss cubed chicken in thickened sauce, and let sit at least 10 minutes before serving.
- Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve over brown rice