Spending Christmas day at my brother-in-law’s family home, with his mother, Linda—a great comfort food cook and master pie baker—has become one of my favorite holiday traditions. This post, however, is not about creamy mashed potatoes, or tender turkey, or perfect pie crust…
Every year, Linda generously and creatively stuffs our stockings with delightful and useful gifts like soaps, lotions, lip balms, candies, and kitchen tools. This year the goodies included a small plastic bag of something that looked from a distance like finely ground cracker crumbs, labeled with the name “gomashio” and the recommendation of using it “to season fish or rice.”
After the frenzy of holiday excitement had subsided, I rediscovered the little baggie and decided it was time to investigate. Its rich smell clearly identified the contents as Japanese in origin (even without the clue provided by its name). I didn’t have any cooked rice or fish handy, so I sprinkled a pinch onto a slice of raw red bell pepper and another pinch onto an avocado sandwich. My immediate reaction of pure sensory euphoria was followed by panic—what am I going to do when this bag runs out??? (I’ve never been very good at living in the moment.) Everything had changed in that instant. I knew I could never go back to a gomashio-free lifestyle.
The first thing I did was march over to San Francisco’s massive New May Wah grocery store, a neighborhood mega-market that spans half a city block and carries every conceivable Asian food product. No gomashio? I’m getting nervous. So I turned to the internet for guidance and discovered that gomashio is an incredibly simple seasoning—the only ingredients are sesame seeds and salt. In fact, the word “gomashio” comes from the Japanese “goma” (sesame) and “shio” (salt). Traditionally, the salt and seeds are both toasted in a skillet and then ground together with a mortar and pestle. But I am a Lazy Gourmet, and as easy as this method sounded I wondered why I couldn’t just buy pre-toasted sesame seeds and toss them, along with some salt, into the food processor. Well, I could, and I did.
I was a bit concerned that Japanese traditionalists would be upset by my Lazy method, so I sought the blessing of my dear friend and excellent cook Makiko, from Okinawa, whom I will consider for this purpose to be representative of the entire Japanese culinary world. Her response was, “…we live in modern age and whatever works and gets a good result, I am all for it. Your way of making gomashio is simple and it might be a good way to introduce it to the people who have never had it. Go for it!” Whew. Good to go.
Traditional recipes call for a sesame-to-salt ratio of anywhere from 15:1 (15 parts sesame seeds to 1 part salt) to 5:1. I found even the lower end of this range to be a little too salty for me, because I really like to pile this stuff on. So I use less salt in this recipe, but you can add more to suit your taste. Sprinkle gomashio over warm rice, fish, steamed vegetables, braised tofu, or pretty much anywhere you might normally use salt.Print
In traditional gomashio recipes, the salt and sesame seeds are both toasted in a skillet and then ground together with a mortar and pestle. In this lazier version, I just use pre-toasted sesame seeds and a food processor. Also, traditional recipes call for a sesame-to-salt ratio of anywhere from 15:1 (15 parts sesame seeds to 1 part salt) to 5:1. I found even the lower end of this range to be a little too salty for me, because I really like to pile this stuff on. So I use less salt in this recipe, but you can add more to suit your taste.
Gomashio will keep for a few weeks in an airtight container stored in a cool, dry place.
- ½ cup toasted sesame seeds (white or black)*
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
* Toasted sesame seeds can be found at gourmet shops, Asian markets, and in the Asian section of many supermarkets.
- Place sesame seeds and salt in food processor and pulse until ground, but not pulverized. While you want to crush most of the seeds, a few can remain whole.
- Taste and add more salt if desired.