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Open sesame

While you enjoy gajak, chikki and rewriyan during Lohri and Sankrant this month, give a thought to til, writes Sanjeev Kapoor.

india Updated: Jan 17, 2009 16:10 IST

While you enjoy gajak, chikki and rewriyan during Lohri and Sankrant this month, give a thought to til. Such a little seed but it gives the best of the nuts stiff competition.

Going nutty
Nutty when toasted, til has a sweet aroma and milky-buttery taste. Bread, breadsticks, cookies are ideal products for roasted sesame seed. White sesame seeds top the burger buns, making the burger brigade aware of it. The sesame seeds undergo a special hulling process, after which they are double washed, dried and used on hamburger buns. This process allows the seed to stick to the bun while maintaining a white colour after baking. <b1>

Sesame is a key ingredient in a variety of world cuisines, especially Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean. In my recipe collection, I love to use sesame with honey…in chicken, prawns and fried noodles to make daarsaan. I also appreciate the way the Gujarati preparations use sesame on top of dhoklas, patra, handvo and in some vegetables like chips nu shaak and papri nu shaak.

Sesame along with peanuts are used to good effect in the tilli-phalli gravy ever so popular in Hyderabadi cuisine. Sesame also creates the creamy, sweet wholesome tahini which is rich in protein and a very good energy source.

Oldest spice
Sesame is thought to be one of the oldest spices known to man and is likely the first crop grown for its edible oil.

Babylonians used the oil to make sesame cakes, wine, brandy, and toiletries. From as early as 1500 B.C, Egyptians believed sesame to have medicinal powers.

The seeds come in a variety of colours — shades of brown, red, black, yellow and most commonly, a pale greyish ivory. The darker seeds are said to be more flavourful, but beware of seeds that have been dyed. Because of their oil content, sesame seeds have a shelf life of about two years if stored tightly capped in a cool, dry place or in the refrigerator.

Sesame oil, on the other hand, is remarkably stable and will keep for years without turning rancid, even in hot climates. It is most popular in Asia, including Tamil Nadu, where its widespread use is similar to that of olive oil in the Mediterranean. It is excellent for salads and pickles and is used by the Japanese for cooking fish.

Til the end…
Til is versatile and changes the face of many recipes. Top open toast generously with til and either grill or fry for a crispy, nutty, topping…or take a handful and add to imli til ka pulao…or go traditional and make some tilache laadoo. I still have such fond memories of Lohri in Delhi with the fire crackling away and with every little rewri popped into it as offering, the fire blazing a bit more…til the end.

(The writer is a master chef, author and television host. Email at