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Sesame seeds (Recipe: asparagus in miso sauce) {vegan, gluten-free}

If you read about The Perfect Pantry in the Washington Post, and this is your first visit, welcome. This blog looks at what a professional food writer (me!) keeps in her refrigerator, freezer, cupboards and spice rack -- with a recipe for each item -- and the 23 things I absolutely, positively, have to have in my pantry. 


Two things I don't usually do:

I don't usually write about an ingredient in The Perfect Pantry just because I have a new kitchen toy -- oops, tool -- to show you, even when it is an adorable red Japanese sesame seed grinder that looks a little bit like a Mummenschanz crossed with a Tinkertoy.

And, I don't usually give advice about love and relationships and dating and all that.

I don't. Usually. Except today.

Today, I am going to tell you how to choose your life partner.

Forget sense of humor, shared values, attraction, responsibility, respect.

What's really important is to find someone who understands that you (yes, you, and me, too) cannot have too many tools/ingredients/pots/bowls. That when your pantry grows to more than 200 items, the right thing to do is to build more shelves.

That when he is in New York City on business, and you email to him about a neat housewares store in SoHo, he should know instinctively that you are not just being chatty, that the right thing to do is to go to the store and purchase a few surprises for your kitchen, including a little red sesame seed grinder.

That is the person you want to live with forever and ever, the person for whom you will make Asian cabbage salad and fish sticks, peanut sesame noodles and saffron bread, peanut butter-black sesame cupcakes and zahtar plantains. And of course you will make tahini from scratch. (It will take forever and ever to do it with your little red sesame seed grinder, so use a food processor. Go ahead. The love of your life will not mind one bit.)

While you are cooking, you can tell your forever person so many interesting things about sesame seeds, which come from a flowering annual plant grown in India, China, Sudan, Ethiopia, Mexico, and the southwestern US. In addition to a nutty flavor and crunch, sesame seeds also contribute to good health. They are a source of manganese and copper, as well as calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, vitamin B1 and zinc. Plus, they're packed with sesamin and sesamolin, two beneficial fibers that may help lower cholesterol and control blood pressure.

You might mention that in the local Asian market, a 24-ounce bag of tan, black or white seeds sells for just $2.79, and that because sesame seeds are approximately 50 percent oil by weight, and tend to get rancid after a few months, they should be stored in the refrigerator.

Then, you can toast a few seeds in a dry frying pan for just a minute or two, to bring out the flavor, and sprinkle them on summer salads, noodle dishes, or a bowl of yogurt and fruit.

Or turn them into a sweet halvah, for the forever person who brought home the little red grinder.

Asparagus in miso sauce

I can't resist a cookbook with mouthwatering photos, so when I saw Sur La Table's new Things Cooks Love, by Marie Simmons, on sale at Costco, I had to have it. The instructions for this dish call for grinding the sauce in a suribachi, but if you don't have one, use a mortar and pestle, or a cute Japanese grinding gizmo and a food processor. Perfect for the asparagus just coming into season here in Rhode Island, this recipe, slightly adapted from the book, serves 4, and can be doubled easily.


1 tsp tan or black sesame seeds
1 lb medium-width or fat asparagus, stems trimmed
1 Tbsp coarse sea salt

For the miso-sesame sauce:
2 Tbsp tan sesame seeds
2 Tbsp shiro (white) miso
3 Tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar


In a small, dry, nonstick frying pan, toast 1 tsp sesame seeds for 2 minutes over low heat, just until the seeds begin to brown slightly. Pour the seeds into a small bowl, and set aside for garnish.

Trim the woody ends of the asparagus and, if the spears are fat, use a vegetable peeler to remove some of the scales from the lower half.

Fill a large bowl with 2 quarts of water and a tray's worth of ice cubes, and set aside.

Fill a large saucepan with 2-3 quarts of water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the asparagus and sea salt, and cook for 2-3 minutes, depending on the size of the spears, until they are crisp-tender. Remove the asparagus with a spider or slotted spoon, and toss the spears into the bowl of ice water (this stops the cooking and sets the color). After 5 minutes, remove the asparagus and drain on a clean dish towel.

Make the sauce: Grind 2 Tbsp of sesame seeds in a cute little grinder gizmo, spice mill, or mortar and pestle. If using a mortar, add the miso and rice vinegar, a little at a time, and blend well. (Or you can toss it all into a mini food processor and blend to a nice consistency.)

Arrange the asparagus on a serving platter, and drizzle the sauce across the top. Garnish with the toasted sesame seeds, and serve chilled or at room temperature.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Potato salad with sesame dressing
Traditional hummus

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Ha. the love of my life just yesterday said "why would you want a KitchenAid, when you already have a Thermomix?". Is this soulmate-speak? I think not.

I do believe you have the right man in the house!
Such a fun post Lydia

I like that little "toy" you have :)
There are so many things I want to experiment with sesame seeds.

That is so cute! And that is such a sweet post for your "forever person"!

That is so cute! Men can be so great sometimes! And Kiosk, yes! What a cool store! It's so funny, up a dark stairway with weird graffiti and neon, it reminds me of the entrance to some sketchy "club" in some European Red-Light district, and then *pop* at the top of the stairs it's just a sweet little shop. So weird! You're a lucky lady Lydia! What a fun new toy.

The absolute most perfect advice!
I had a good laugh over this post and agreed completely... a man who can embrace your inner foodie and love you still for all of the craziness it brings is a keeper!

Perfect time for Asparagus, also in Germany!

How fun, and what a great guy. I can't wait to meet him! I want that cookbook too. Love the sound of this asparagus.

"What's really important is to find someone who understands that you (yes, you, and me, too) cannot have too many tools/ingredients/pots/bowls. That when your pantry grows to more than 200 items, the right thing to do is to build more shelves. "

And I build shelves and tables: http://blog.charcuteire.com/2008/02/28/on-tables-and-kitchens.aspx .

Since we do different things food wise, our collection is twice the size of most fellow nut-cases, er cooks.

She does the meals, I preserve, fabricate, bake and am really getting into charcuterie.

Doesn't everybody have two stoves in the kitchen?

Wow, what a guy! I do have to say that my hubby might do the same for me too. He understands my obsession with all things food- definitely keepers, huh?

I'm also a sucker for cookbooks with mouthwatering photos!

I love this post. :-)

You write so well :) And I really love your new gadget, hope I can find it in Singapore too! Your recipe sounds delicious and I may try it coz I have most of the ingredients!

Such a cute post, Lydia! I completely agree. My better half knows how to take a hint, so I think I am set for life.

My Goodness..! Is there such a thing as this lover that you portray? I am not only thinking that I am missing out on something beautiful and fantastic...I have to take a second look and then, think that what I have is fantastic...as, as you know "My Bob", he loves to spend on "things. toy's, food, etc."
so, Hello to you Lydia, and yes, tools make better lovers!


Glad you got your little red grinder. ;-)


Lobstersquad, of course you can have both (and a rice cooker, too....)!

MyKitchen, I think I do, too.

Tigerfish, this little grinder has given me all sorts of ideas. Mostly I use sesame seeds whole, and toasted -- so now I'm thinking of all kinds of ways to use the ground ones, especially as a thickener for sauces and salad dressings.

Nupur, my forever person is a bit of a cutie...

Ann, I love the description of this store. It's definitely on my list for my next trip to NYC. Every item they sell comes with a little write-up, like a piece of art.

Kristen, yes indeed!

Flo, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. I'm off to our local asparagus farm next week for the first-of-the-season local harvest. I love this time of year.

Kalyn, the cookbook is truly stunning, and features photos of some beautiful cookware and tools I'd love to have in my kitchen.

NTSC, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. Sounds like you are somebody's forever person already!

RecipeGirl, we are lucky to have hubbies who understand, indulge, and enable.

Ann, thank you so much.

Noobcook, you're so kind. And I'm sure you can find one of these sesame grinders in Singapore, or something even more adorable. I remember finding wonderful markets in Singapore when we visited many years ago.

Aimee, sounds like a forever person to me!

Pam, I'm laughing out loud....

Paz, watch for future photos of the other goodies that found their way from this store to my kitchen (you knew there would be more than one thing, didn't you?).

Lydia, congratulations on the Washington Post article! Your story of the kitchen tool gift reminds me of the time my sweetie gave me a Cuisinart for Christmas - just what I wanted!! Yet a friend found it a most unsuitable gift and would have preferred jewelry! So now we joke about how I prepared certain ingredients with the "gold chain".

Oh, my friend, you are so right. Joao never frowns when I say I need one more cake pan. ;)

And how wonderful is that article?? Congrats, darling!

So enjoyed your interview in the Washington Post, and yes, you are the quintessential food writer! Congratulations blog mom-fun, fun, fun!

Onto this forever person post. This is too sweet and ever so true. My forever love is determined to build me a wine cellar in the sub-basement of our home. Gotta love a man who not only goes in every gourmet shop, kitchen-wares store, food festival, vineyard & winery with you, but when he wants to build you a wine cellar so you can properly store all your purchases? Now that's amore, and there is nothing sweeter!

P.S. Cute sesame seed grinder you've got there! I needed that years ago when I loaded up on sesame seeds in order to make tahini from scratch. Ha, ha on me--while I gave it the scouts' try, I ended up buying ready made when it came time to make the hummus! (And no, at the time, I didn't even own a food processor!)

What a great Post article, Lydia, congratulations! Had to laugh at the TinkerToy reference, haven't thought of those toys since I was a kid. Of course we had a set or two. :-)

Hey Lydia - this made me smile! Especially when you said Ted honey, I need this little sesame thingie, oh and some more shelves. From Soho. My forever person has had to build me three units (small, medium, large)plus find me a cupboard just for Costco. I think he still owes me for storing my original pantry box in the garage where it ended up recycled on moving day!
The recipe sounds delicious, I use a similar mix when microwave/steaming asparagus (using liquid soy instead of miso). And what's that Japanese sesame/seaweed/sea salt mix/ called? Would it work in the thingie?
PS I don't think Jane Black gets the Zen of pantries! Good publicity though...

Lucia, aren't you happy to have that Cuisinart?! When I was young, my mother always told me that gifts should be personal (i.e., she never wanted a washing machine as a gift because it would be more of a family gift than something just for her). Well, times have changed, and now I'm thrilled to get kitchen tools as gifts -- and if other people get pleasure from using them, too, that's even better.

Patricia, obrigado! And of course Joao is a forever person, too, isn't he?

Sandie, a wine cellar??? Oh, that is too wonderful! (and yes, it's much easier to buy tahini from the market....)

Elise, many thanks. My grandparents owned a wholesale toy business, so we had multiples of everything when I was growing up!

Arlo, I'm smiling! I remember your story about that pantry box (http://www.theperfectpantry.com/2007/12/first-light-fir.html ), and how it was put out for the recycling by accident. Your forever person owes you a shelf or two. The seasoning you're speaking of is called furikake; I don't think it would work in the grinder, because it's too moist. And wouldn't you like to peek in Jane Black's pantry? I told her that I would like to!

What I was trying to remember was Gomashio, roasted sesame seeds, sea salt and dried dulse/kelp. In a shaker. Brings back many hippy day memories and pretty good for these times too...

Here is a short and informative link, but wikipedia also has good info.

I'm so jealous! I want one!

Having a supportive mate is so important - one who understands your gadgets, needs and obsessions and whose gadgets, needs and obsessions you also understand.
Love your blog, your humor and your food!

Aw I love that sesame seed grinder, it is too cute! Hmm... if only I could get the bf to buy another pantry. :)

Arlo, thanks so much for the link. I'll have to try this -- especially if it's something from those hippie days....

Sher, it is cute, isn't it?

Candelaria, thank you. Yes, I am lucky -- I have a wonderful husband and a really cute sesame seed grinder. And lots of shelf space for more!

Amy, wouldn't that be grand? You can never have too much pantry....

Eden Foods makes a good gomashio. I once did the traditional preparation: roast seeds and salt, grind in a suribachi (grooved bowl) with a wooden pestle. Just think of all the mashing and pounding that went on in traditional kitchens!

Susan, thanks for the info. You're so right about traditional kitchens -- every time I make aioli with my mortar and pestle (and usually with friends to help with the long grinding), I think how lucky we are to have food processors!

love your witty writing style. found your blog through washington post and am loving it! and the sesame seed grinder is way cool. don't you just love smart cool kitchen gadgets? :D

Cheryl, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. Don't tell anyone, but I have been known to fall in love with a new kitchen gadget every so often...

Lydia, this sounds like such a delicious recipe for asparagus! I've been seeing miso used a lot on Top Chef and am curious to try glazing something with it.

Hillary, definitely try this recipe -- and also try glazing salmon with miso, because the miso you buy will make far more than this one dish!

how long does Miso paste last in the refrigerator?

Lisa, miso is fermented, and if stored in the fridge should last for a few months.

I have a "slicky" too, and mine is also from Kiosk. Great (and cute) tool, great store. Thanks for the funny post and recipe.

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