This past April my family and I traveled to India for three weeks. The highlight of our trip was the week we spent on a converted tea estate called Wild Mahseer in Assam. Assam is in the north-east corner of India very close to China. The people here start to look more East Asian and the food is distinctly different. During our time there we took an excursion to a nearby village. This place embodied rustic living – no running water or any other modern conveniences were present. Imagine my amazement when as we were on a tour I heard a Justin Bieber ringtone from one of the villagers’ cell phones! I guess his appeal knows no boundaries.
While we were there, the lady of house was grinding a spice mixture in the largest mortar and pestle I had ever seen. It also had an unexpected canoe-like shape.
When she saw my interest she immediately offered me a taste. It was incredible – salty, spicy and earthy. Of course I asked for the recipe! It was made of three simple ingredients: toasted black sesame seeds, toasted dried red chilies, and coarse salt. If you have never had the pleasure of black sesame seeds you are missing out. They have a deeper, nuttier taste than their white counterparts – and of course the flavor is intensified by toasting. The villagers mix this spice mix into plain boiled rice with butter. As soon as I tasted it I thought it would be a fabulous way to dress up veggies. We were entertaining this weekend and it was the perfect opportunity to try out this Assamese spice treat. My guests absolutely loved it. The flavor is really unusual and sticks with you. I made an incredibly simple vinaigrette with the spice mix, some lemon juice and olive oil and drizzled it over halved grape tomatoes, steamed haricot verts, and sliced English cucumber. I also offered more of the sesame chili salt on the side for guests to sprinkle on to their taste. The next time you are at a loss on how to dress up vegetables please try this. It is easy and unforgettable.
SESAME CHILI SALT
- 2 tbl black sesame seeds
- 6-12 dried red chilies (I used 12 and my mix was VERY hot)
- 1/2 tbl coarse salt (I used sea salt but kosher would also work)
1. Toast the black sesame seeds and red chilies in a dry skillet over medium heat for 7 minutes, until they start to pop a little and smoke.
3. Transfer toasted spices to spice grinder and also add in the salt. Grind until you have an even powder.
Sesame chili salt would be delicious as-is sprinkled over sliced tomatoes and cucumber with a drizzle of olive oil. If you want to dress it up a bit more you can mix together juice from half a lemon, 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon of the sesame chili salt for a basic vinaigrette that would be lovely on anything from steamed haricot verts to fresh arugula.