Sesame seeds (Recipe: cucumber and chicken salad with sesame ginger dressing)
An old Assyrian myth holds that the gods drank sesame wine, pressed from fermented sesame seeds, the night before they created the Earth.
I can picture it now: a group of gods sitting at a bar, doodling on cocktail napkins, the way all major construction projects are designed. What better explanation for the wacky shapes of the continents?
When it comes to the wine, though, the gods definitely were on to something. Sesame seeds and sesame oil -- and, yes, mostly likely sesame wine -- are among the world's healthiest foods, rich in minerals like manganese, copper, calcium, zinc and iron that have beneficial effects on blood pressure, cholesterol, respiratory and vascular health, and osteoporosis.
So those gods who allegedly created the Earth might have been looped, but they were definitely the healthiest of gods.
What are sesame seeds?
The seeds of a flowering plant. They taste like nuts, but they're not.
How/where to store:
In the refrigerator or freezer. Sesame seeds are rich in natural oil, and as a result they will turn rancid if stored at room temperature.
More facts about sesame seeds, and ingredient photos, in The Perfect Pantry:
Sesame seeds (Recipe: zahtar)
Cucumber and chicken salad with sesame ginger dressing
With leftover grilled chicken breast, a cucumber, and condiments from the Asian shelf in my pantry, this salad came together in less than ten minutes. (If you need to cook chicken for this, steam or grill a 6-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breast half.) You can turn it into a more substantial main course dish by adding some cooked pasta. Adapted from Japanese Light: Heart-Friendly, Age-Defying Recipes from the World's Healthiest Cuisine, by Kimiko Barber, this recipe serves 3-4.
2 cups shredded leftover grilled chicken or rotisserie chicken
2 small cucumbers or 2/3 of an English (seedless) cucumber, cut into wedge-shaped chunks
1/2 tsp Asian sesame oil
2 scallions, sliced on the diagonal (optional), for garnish
1/2 tsp black sesame seeds, for garnish
For the sesame ginger dressing:
4 Tbsp toasted white sesame seeds
1 Tbsp sugar
1-1/2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp peeled, grated fresh ginger
1 tsp light miso
Shred the chicken and add it to a large mixing bowl along with the cucumber chunks.
Use a mortar and pestle to grind the sesame seeds into a coarse paste. Add the sugar, rice vinegar, soy sauce, ginger and miso, and continue to grind into a smooth paste. Add a drop of water if you'd like a thinner dressing.
Drizzle the chicken and cucumber with the sesame oil and miso dressing. Arrange in a serving bowl, and garnish with chopped scallions and black sesame seeds.
Other recipes that use sesame seeds:
Soy-glazed sweet potatoes with sesame seeds, from Kalyn's Kitchen
Sesame seed and saffron bread, from Arabic Bites
Sesame-orange chicken, from Simply Recipes
Squid ink pasta with black trumpet mushrooms, from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook
Chocolate sesame cookies, from Green Gourmet Giraffe