“Open _____.” (fill in the blank)

sBefore we get to today’s puzzler and food focus, here’s a hint about Andy’s newest post: he’s contemplating retsina wine, Zorba the Greek, and happiness.  It’s multi-faceted.  And in Food for Thought I share details about my new favorite plant.  But I may just have to love it from afar.

Now – the puzzler: what do these three pictures have in common?

Of course!  You knew it, didn’t you?  But I’ll bet you didn’t know that Sesamum indicum, from which we get our sesame seeds, grows to about 3-6′ tall, is planted annually, loves high heat, and is one of the most drought tolerant plants in the world. But for those doing the farming, it’s labor intensive because the harvesting must be done manually, and the capsules want to shatter (unless they’ve been bred to be shatter-resistant) before the crop has been harvested; 1/3 of the crop can easily be lost.

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The capsules are 1-3″ long and there are about 50-80 seeds per capsule.  And it takes about 1000 seeds to get one ounce, so it took at least 100 capsules of sesamum indicum to fill the 8 oz jar of seeds that’s in our cupboard.  I don’t think I’ll be growing the plant any time soon.

Even though sesamum is not the crop for our backyard garden, I have a bit of an addiction to the seeds.  In addition to the recipes posted here, which include a favorite cookie, I love Italian Biscotti Regina with their sesame coating; I crave Dan Dan noodles, which makes use of both sesame seeds and sesame oil, and we’re headed for Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2018 to taste their moles, which often include sesame seeds.

When I taught Social Studies at Scotlandville Magnet High School in Baton Rouge, LA, I had the privilege of connecting with amazing kids from lots of different cultures and backgrounds.  It was an eye-opening experience for someone who had grown up in the very white Fort Collins of the 1950’s (known then as the city with wide streets and narrow minds!).   In my World Geography classes I was way more excited to teach about the food of an area than about climate, landforms or capital cities, and we had fun with in-class samplings of food from some of the countries we studied.

We recently had a little dinner party at our house, and the featured course was Korean Sesame Noodles with Zucchini and Ground Beef.  Since a version of that recipe appears in our daughter’s first cookbook, Asian Vegetables, published 16 years ago, you might think that she developed the recipe.  But no.  Food bloggers are instructed to give credit where credit is due, so I must report that Sara got the recipe from me, and I got the inspiration for it from a recipe given to me at SMHS by a Korean-born student.  And Andy and I consider it our comfort food – we love it that much.  Its unique flavor comes from the 3 tablespoons of ground sesame seeds which are added to the ground beef.

A few weeks ago my Glen Ellen neighbor and friend, Deb, who is an excellent and precise cook – and a vegetarian – brought me some of her favorite recipes and one of them is Sesame Noodles with Asparagus Tips.  It’s our 3rd Best of the Besties recipe and provides a different but equally delicious approach to Sesame Noodles.

Korean Seseme Noodles

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Another recipe provided by a student from my Scotlandville days is a hand-written note on a scratch pad – printed, BTW, not cursive (she was ahead of her time 🙂 – for Humus [sic] Me Tahini.  I quote:

“Tahini is ground sesame seeds made into paste – Cheapest @ Oriental grocery.  I don’t like the taste when using peanut butter.”  

I’m guessing I didn’t have a clue what tahini was before receiving that note; and I certainly didn’t know that peanut butter could be a substitute for it.  Live and learn.

And my student is right; though you can substitute peanut butter in the fabulous Tahini Dressing, it’s just not the same.  Try the tahini dressing on roasted or steamed vegetables, on green salads, as a dip.  And it’s easy to make it more Asian-oriented by using some sesame oil (MORE sesame!!! YUM :), rather than all olive oil, and soy sauce, rather than salt.  Remember the recipe for Dukkah I gave you a while ago?  If you made it, toss some of it on top of the veggies and tahini dressing, and you’ll be so-gourmet, so-simply!  If you’re wondering what brand of tahini to buy, here’s what Saveur has to say.


Tahini Dressing


  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 1/4 c lemon juice
  • 1/4 c Tahini
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1-2 T water (optional – if a thinner consistency is desired)

Mix all the ingredients together well and use over roasted veggies, green salad, or as a dip.

Dressing will keep nicely for 4-5 days in the refrigerator.

Recipe brought to you by Big Little Meals and Andy and Ann.

Sesame Noodles with Zucchini and Ground Beef

  • Servings: 4
  • Print


  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 3 T chopped shallot
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2-3 zucchini squash, unpeeled, cut into about 3/4″ chunks (if you’re at an Asian market and can find a fuzzy melon or a bottle gourd, use them; just peel them first)
  • 2 T toasted sesame seeds, ground
  • 1 T chili sauce, such as sambal oelek
  • 1-2 T soy sauce
  • 3/4 lb fresh egg noodles (thin-ish)
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp sesame seeds
  • 4 green onions, sliced thinly
  • Sriracha sauce (optional)

Heat a wok or large skillet to high, then add the oil.  Add the garlic and shallot and stir-fry for just a few seconds; add the ground beef and salt and stir-fry until the beef is starting to brown, about 3-5 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium and add the fuzzy melon, ground sesame seeds, chili sauce, and soy sauce.  Cook, stirring regularly for about 10 minutes, or until the melon is soft and translucent.

While the beef mixture is cooking, bring a large pot filled with water to a boil; add about 1 T salt.  Add the noodles and cook just until tender, about 3-5 minutes.  Drain and then toss with the sesame oil.  Transfer to a serving bowl.

Spoon the zucchini and beef mixture over the noodles.  Garnish with the sesame seeds and green onions and serve.  We always top ours with a few drops of Sriracha sauce.  

The recipe will re-heat in the microwave and freeze beautifully.

Recipe brought to you by Big Little Meals and Andy and Ann.

Sesame Noodles with Asparagus Tips

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Print



  • 1/4 c sesame oil
  • 7 T soy sauce
  • 3 T dark brown sugar
  • 3 T Chinese black vinegar or balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 2 tsp Chili Oil (I suggest Dynasty, because it’s readily available – or you could use 1 generous teaspoon of chili flakes instead)
  • 1 T ginger, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 c cilantro, chopped

Noodles and Asparagus

  • 2 lbs asparagus, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal into about 3/4″ slices (though the title indicates just the tips are used, I used the tips and stalks)
  • 1 14oz package thin egg noodles or Asian vermicelli rice noodles
  • 6-8 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced – both green and white parts
  • 1/4 c toasted sesame seeds

Mix all the marinade ingredients together and stir until well-blended.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add the salt and asparagus; cook until bright green and tender, but still firm (2-5 minutes).  Scoop the asparagus out and rinse it under cold water; set it on a towel to dry.

Pull the noodles apart with your fingers and add them to the boiling water; give them a quick stir.  Boil until tender but not overly soft, tasting them often as they cook.  Note: depending upon your choice of noodles the cooking time can vary greatly.  Just keep tasting.  Pour the noodles into a colander and rinse with cold water.  Shake off the excess water.

Toss the noodles with all of the marinade and most of the onions and sesame seeds and asparagus.  Mound that mixture in a bowl or on a platter, then garnish with the remaining asparagus, green onions, and sesame seeds.

This can be made ahead of time, which makes it great if you’re entertaining; just don’t dress it until you’re ready to serve it.  Recipe brought to you by Deb in Glen Ellen and Big Little Meals

Sesame Cookies

Benne Wafers

  • Servings: about 60 cookies
  • Print
Benne (pronounced “Benny”) is the Bantu word for sesame, and seeds from Africa were apparently brought to the South during the slave trade.  Charleston, NC is known for these little goodies.

A diligent cook would probably toast his or her own sesame seeds but I’m lazy and buy mine already toasted; and I’m careful to use them up before they get rancid.


  • 1 c dark brown sugar
  • 4 T (1/2 cube) butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 c toasted sesame seeds

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line 1 or 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Cream the brown sugar and butter in a food processor or with an electric mixer.  Add the egg and mix it in well.  In a separate bowl mix the flour, salt, soda and baking powder together with a fork or small whisk.  Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and blend until all is incorporated – but don’t beat it.  Stir in the sesame seeds.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto the lined cookie sheets.  NOTE:  a slightly rounded teaspoon (measuring teaspoon, not tea teaspoon) will turn into a very flat crispy/chewy 2 1/2″ baked cookie – which is what you want.  Don’t go bigger!  NOTE #2: my experience says that parchment is better than a Silpat to use.  Mine on the Silpat stuck (but the Silpat was upside down.  Maybe that made a difference :).

Bake until cookies are slightly browned on the edges – about 8-9 minutes.  Let cool for a few minutes before removing from the baking sheet – and onto a cooling rack, if you want.  Keep in an airtight container or freeze.  A little crispness will be lost – but they’re chewy and delicious anytime.

Recipe brought to you by Big Little Meals and Andy and Ann


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