Tiny Seeds…Big Flavor

I think about food most of my waking time. It’s my job. I am passionate about my profession, but also love shopping and studying ingredients from all over the world. I am fascinated with the ingredient itself, and how home cooks prepare it.

But I find that there is a whole other group of ingredients which often go completely overlooked, probably because they are tiny. Consider seeds. Some small ingredients really exhibit big taste. Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, coriander seeds and mustard seeds all have intense flavor, but most of us have no idea of what to do with these overlooked flavor firecrackers.

Here are a few chefs’ tips to get some intense flavor from some small ingredients. First, all seeds taste a hundred times more pronounced when they are first toasted in a dry sauté pan for 1-2 minutes, moving them around constantly until a strong fragrance is noticed.

Poppy seeds: After toasting, mix into cooked pasta, rice, orzo, couscous, or other grains. They are also incredible in cookies, pound cake and even cheesecake. Try mixing fresh berries with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, sugar, and poppy seeds. This makes an incredible topping for vanilla ice cream. Sometimes I mix toasted poppy seeds into some olive oil and raspberry vinegar for a dressing for arugula, spinach, or field greens, then toss the salad with blue cheese and walnuts.

Coriander seeds: Cilantro is grown from little coriander seeds, so imagine how much concentrated flavor is held within coriander. Make pickled vegetables with coriander seeds by combining equal parts of cider vinegar, about a cup with water and half as much sugar. Add a few spoonsful of coriander seeds, a pinch of red chili flakes and bring to a boil. Pour this mixture hot over any sliced vegetables, like cucumbers, zucchini slices, radishes, carrots, or a combination. Allow them to marinate overnight in the refrigerator and next day you have coriander pickles.

Mustard seeds: Typically used in Indian cuisine, I like dredging tofu steaks in coriander seeds and a bit of panko before browning in a non-stick pan with a bit of oil. They are also wonderful sauteed with broccoli and cauliflower with either olive oil or butter.

Sesame seeds: The cornerstone of Asian cuisine, I use sesame seeds in so many recipes. First off, try black sesame seeds for a varied look and flavor. You can also buy sesame seeds which are flavored with wasabi, chili and cayenne. I use sesame seeds as a breading, stir-fried with vegetables and in my favorite dipping sauce, ponzu. I combine a tablespoon of lime juice, with a quarter cup of soy sauce, pinch of sugar and drizzle of sesame oil. I spice it up with a bit of hot sauce or chili paste. This makes a great dip for crudites or grilled vegetables. I also dip chunks of tofu and tempeh in ponzu. The dish pictured is a Sesame and Chili Seared Shrimp