Til chikki, Gajak, Ellu urundai, tahini, tilkut and so on - the tiny nondescript sesame seed does get around. It is popular in all types of Indian cuisines and used extensively in both sweet and savory dishes.
Of all the many avatars that the sesame seeds portrays, the most enjoyed is possibly the sesame and jaggery combination! The crunch of the roasted seeds when combined with the natural sweet cane sugar is so delicious that it needs no other ingredient to accentuate the simple, clean flavours.
Just two simple ingredients can make a variety of delicious sweets based on the region where it is made. In Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, the sesame laddoos made with both white as well as black sesame are of two types - one recipe uses thick jaggery syrup which is mixed into roasted sesame seeds and then rolled into balls before the jaggery cools down completely. This keeps the seeds whole and also adds a nice crunchy texture. The other recipe also involves roasting the sesame seeds. It is then hand pounded when warm with a traditional stone mortar and wooden pestle (which is kept on the floor because of its size and weight). The rhythmic thumping action crushes the seeds and releases the oil which mixes with the jaggery. Before the mixture cools, it is quickly shaped into bite sized balls and stored in an airtight container.
The chikki (brittle) is made with the same principle of using a sugar syrup. A thin layer of hot syrup is poured onto and spread on greased plates and then generously topped with the toasted seeds. This is left to cool completely before breaking into pieces. The thickness of the chikki varies from one person’s preference to the next. There are translucent paper thin versions and more wholesome candy like sesame chikki, which makes for a nourishing snack.
The sesame seed has been a part of the Indian diet since centuries. The first documented records on sesame dates back to 3000BC and shows that it was a crop which was grown for its oil. Sesamum indicum, the plant is said to have originated in India before becoming popular in other parts of the World. The sesame seed today is prominently featured on so many foods. The most common being freshly baked burger buns, sourdough bread and sesame encrusted Asian starters.
Coming back to the unbeatable combination of sesame and jaggery. The time of the year when the body needs to be well fortified during winters, (October to end February). This is the period of the English calendar when Indians enjoy the cooler months, sipping on warm masala infused beverages, fried foods and comforting meals.
The best snack recommended for this time of year is one made with sesame and jaggery. It is light on digestion, contains plenty of dietary fibre and adequate heat for the body to function properly. The body also needs the right kind of fuel to break down the energy giving foods and help it assimilate into the body. That’s where the jaggery is the perfect fit. Natural sugar from sustainably and organically grown sugarcane is extremely cleansing for the body as well.
Sesame seeds are regarded highly in the Ayurvedic diet. During festivals like Navratri, Diwali and Sankranti, gifting sesame and jaggery was considered auspicious as it was a combination of ingredients which had immense medical benefits. Calcium, magnesium and zinc are found in abundance, especially in the black sesame seeds. It is also said to be beneficial in combating osteoarthritis and lowering blood pressure levels.
A medium sized snack box which can hold about 24-30 sesame ladoos takes little time to make. Making these delicious sweets in small quantities ensures that it is eaten when fresh. Eating one a day or once in 2 days is highly recommended for robustness of body and mind. It’s also so flavourful and delicious.
We often complain of overeating a packet of biscuits and feeling a huge slump and almost immediate lethargy and listlessness. That’s because the refined flour, sugar and preservatives add empty calories and make the person feel bloated. Some time back, we wrote a detailed writeup about the phasing out the refined, highly processed foods mainly sugar, salt, flour and oils from our kitchens. Read it here. Eating a snack made with local ingredients cooked in a traditional manner has the opposite effect. It adds energy and a spring in the step, leading to an optimally productive mind and body.
Strengthening core muscles happens when we target those specific areas and make them stronger. It’s the same thing with food. When we eat with the intention of understanding the benefits then it is easier to reach for some sesame-jaggery goodness rather than a crumbly something which we may not even remember.
The til and gud are so delicious that the flavours can be experimented with in other ways. Have you tried making a black sesame and jaggery tart base with some sticky dates added for binding? Do try it. It is a no bake tart base which can be refrigerated until it is set. Add in choice fillings like fresh chopped fruits or a creamy custard or even a sweetened tahini and cashew cream filling. It is so delicious and beautiful to look at.
Making the right choices is all it takes to follow a seasonal diet. After that, it is fun to experiment and find sensational new ways of creating new and interesting dishes for you and your loved ones.
When it comes to the sesame seed packing a nutritive punch, size truly does not matter!