Open Sesame

After testing, tasting and a fair bit of teasing of what was to come, a copy of Florencia Clifford’s gorgeous book Feeding Orchids to the Slugs: Tales from a Zen Kitchen is now in my kitchen. First thing I did when I opened the book was look up the index of recipes to see those I’d tested and check what else was listed there. Then I spotted gomasio: a tasty condiment based on sesame seeds and salt that I used to make back in the 80s when I first experimented with a macrobiotic diet. I had completely forgotten about this humble, tasty aid to digestion and why I liked it so much. More on that in a minute.

All the recipes appear in the book in their rightful place in the context of Flo’s story. That prompted me to sit down, start at the beginning and discover the recipes, mindfully and in the same order as they had been written so I waited until page 93 before I made a small batch of gomasio, from the chapter, surprisingly titled: Porridge. (I felt there’s something to be honoured here about a cook who passes on her recipes, as well as her insights and since I’ve already been involved with this book, pre-production I wanted to understand why this particular condiment had been included in the story.)

Take: 1/4 cup of raw, unhulled sesame seeds (Flo prefers brown or yellow, mine were very pale yellow), 1 tsp rock or sea salt. Place the seeds in a dry, small non stick fry pan and toast on a very low heat, stirring often until golden, or until they just start to pop. This took about ten minutes, slower is better. Flo says, twenty, to bring out the potency of the taste and make them easier to grind later; I think I have much to learn. Take them off the heat preferably before popping starts, otherwise they’ll be all over the kitchen floor and/or the flavour ruined.

Toast the salt in the same pan, again on the lowest setting for about ten minutes, until it shines (the salt not the pan). Mix the seeds and salt together in a mortar, and grind with the pestle.

Take care not to grind into a powder, as the grainy texture of the seeds is important for sprinkling. Flo says don’t make too much as the seeds tend to go rancid after awhile. Small batches will last a long time, as you only need a little. I store mine in a little mustard jar, and yes it goes rather well sprinkled on porridge. Actually it goes well sprinkled on n number of things including pasta, rice and home made hummus (skip the tahini). But today I’m adding gomasio to a bowl of chard from this week’s veg box.

As I rinsed the chard with fresh water I could smell it’s earthy, bitter greenness, not unlike spinach but richer, darker and stronger.

There’s a recipe suggestion in the Riverford Farm Cook Book to add raisins and garlic or pine nuts to chard that has been flash boiled (wilted) in a small amount of water in a wok.

Drain and revive in cold water, drain again and add to a small amount of hot oil back in the wok. The addition of a handful of raisins seems like a good idea to counteract the strong green taste but the masterstroke is the addition of a sprinkling of gomasio. So there it is, sweet, salty and bitter, a holy trinity of flavours to titillate the taste buds on a chilly winter’s day.

Florencia writes about gomasio: ‘It originates from the macrobiotic tradition, the Japanese philosophy on whose principles I often draw in my cooking practice. Macrobiotics esteems seeds as a virtuous ingredient. When mixed with salt and toasted, the seeds acquire a natural healing quality. Sesame is believed to hold the key to a healthy digestion and helps reduce sodium levels (although it contains salt, the difference is in toasting it). It is rich in minerals and a good sauce of both protein and fibre.’

And of course I wouldn’t dream of telling why Florencia feeds orchids to the slugs because that would spoil the pleasure of reading the book and following her journey. A story of sensual experiences, insights and recipes, from a Buddhist retreat in an isolated farmhouse in mid-Wales to the hills of her childhood in Argentina, whilst becoming a Zen cook.

Here is a charming illustrated chapter page, to share from the book:

Retreat One: The Little Girl

Notice how the truth tends to manifest … Unexpectedly … In the small things we are often too drowsy to see … In constant whispers we are often too busy to hear …

Three recipes from Feeding Orchids to The Slugs:  Quinoa Salad ……. Mushrooms and Lovage Stew ……. Lentil Cottage Pie

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