Open your senses to sesame

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

Pity the poor sesame. Despite a pedigree of nearly 5,000 years, Americans have relegated it to an adornment for a hamburger bun.

This is not the case in other countries, where its royal status has been maintained. Indians believe sesame seeds are linked with immortality. An Assyrian legend has the gods drinking sesame wine the night before creating the earth. Ali Baba had it right when ascribing sesame with magical powers.

In most of Asia, sesame seeds still hold a prominent place as both an oil and a food.

Favorites such as hummus and halvah have ground sesame paste as their bases. There are few Chinese, Japanese or Korean dishes that don’t have a dash of aromatic sesame seed oil to enhance their flavors.

Sesame noodles are a favorite in Chinese restaurants. Unfortunately, many recipes are made with peanut butter, a deadly allergen for many people. My recipe uses only sesame, both the ground seeds and the oil.

Sesame noodles are a warm-weather dish, served chilled or at room temperature. The sauce is salty and sweet — and a little fiery and tangy with the addition of chile and vinegar.

Sesame noodles are traditionally topped with julienned cucumber slices to add to their cooling appeal.

Sesame noodles make a great picnic addition, as there is nothing in them that you have to worry about spoiling.

When looking for sesame seeds, you will want to buy them in bulk, rather than the small jars. Most supermarkets sell them in their natural food aisle.

As with most nuts and seeds, toasting brings out the flavor. To toast, place the sesame seeds in a dry cast iron or heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Move them around with a spatula until they are lightly browned and release a nutty aroma. Grind them in a small food processor or use a mortar and pestle.

Sesame Noodles

1 medium size cucumber

1 pound fresh Chinese egg noodles or 1/2 pound dry spaghetti

2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided

6 tablespoons ground roasted sesame seeds

4 tablespoons soy sauce

4 teaspoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoon vegetable stock or water

Peel the cucumber, cut it in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Cut into fine julienne strips.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Separate the noodles and drop them in. Cook for 5 minutes. If using spaghetti, follow package directions.

When done, drain the noodles and immediately rinse them with cold water. Drain well. Place in a serving bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons sesame oil and set aside.

Combine the 2 teaspoons sesame oil, the ground sesame seeds, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, cayenne, salt, white pepper, vegetable oil and stock. Mix well.

When ready to serve, pour the sauce over the noodles and top with the julienned cucumber. Toss the noodles at the table before eating.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.