FOOD & DRINK / On the Shelf: Sesame Seeds: This is the first helping of an occasional series designed to suggest ways of using up those ingredients you bought for a special dish which have been on the shelf ever since

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The Independent Culture
YOU bought some sesame seeds to sprinkle on a home-made loaf instead of poppy seeds. It was delicious but you never used them again. This, then, is for you.

Sesame seeds have a dense, chewy slightly bitter flavour when raw, but when the seeds are toasted or cooked their character is transformed into an aromatic, rich, sweet nuttiness. This change is due to their high content of oil (50 per cent).

There are two kinds of sesame seeds obtainable in Britain, the common white ones and the black seeds. Both are used widely in Japanese and Korean cooking, toasted in a dry frying pan. Then they are lightly pounded and used in sauces and dips, to thicken and flavour them.

They are also used as a Japanese table seasoning called gomasio. Toast the white or black seeds in a dry frying pan and mix them with an equal quantity of sea salt. Keep in an empty mustard jar to sprinkle on salads or sauteed spinach or greens.

Lightly toasted sesame seeds pounded into a paste produce the tahina of Middle Eastern cooking, but it's more practical to buy it ready-made. Add a few teaspoonsful of tahina paste to hummus, the puree of cooked chick peas, blended with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and parsley. The tahina deepens flavour and richness.

One of the easiest and most charming ways of using up sesame seeds is by making Chinese prawn toasts, excellent as a pre-meal appetiser. This recipe is based on one from the BBC's Chinese cook Ken Hom.


Makes 30

10 slices dry white bread, crusts removed

3 tablespoons white sesame seeds

oil for deep-frying (preferably groundnut oil)

Prawn paste:

1lb/500g peeled prawns

1 egg

2 tablespoons white of spring onions, chopped

2 tablespoons of finely grated, peeled ginger

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

1 teaspoon salt

Chop the prawns finely and mix with the other paste ingredients in a blender (it can be prepared in advance and kept in the fridge).

Cut each slice of bread into three rectangles and spread a mound of paste onto each. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, gently pressing them into place.

Deep-fry in hot oil a few at a time, paste side down first, for two minutes, then on the other side for two minutes more. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper. Serve at once.