The Power of Goma-ae, or Sesame Dressing

The Power of Goma-ae, or Sesame Dressing

Explore the simplicity and precision of Japanese cuisine with a dish featuring corn and blanched green beans dressed with goma-ae (sesame dressing). Learn how the toasting and grinding of sesame seeds can create entirely different flavors and fragrances, and discover the delicate and rustic tableware showcased in the cookbook 'Gentle Vegetables, Gentle Tableware.'

Here's another dish from another one of my Japanese cookbooks, this one titled "Gentle Vegetables, Gentle Tableware." This book features gorgeous shots of foods arranged in simple yet rustic and breathtaking tableware. There are no recipes, per se, just a list of ingredients for each dish, and the author's thoughts on the cooking. These thoughts, though, are heavy. Take the dish pictured above, corn and blanched and shocked green beans dressed with goma-ae (sesame dressing). Goma-ae is simplicity itself: The way I make it is 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, ground, mixed with 1 teaspoon sugar (I use a blonde Japanese cane sugar, which has a lovely sweetness) and 1 tablespoon soy sauce. You can adjust these proportions to your own taste, and of course up quantities proportionally depending on how much you're cooking.

Now here's where it gets interesting: As the author explains, the simple acts of how you toast the sesame seeds and how you grind them, can create totally different dishes from the same ingredients. So in the photo above, I lightly toasted the sesame seeds in a dry skillet (still blonde) and ground them in a suribachi until they became a paste like peanut butter, then added the sugar and soy sauce and mixed everything smooth. This created a delicate goma-ae that complimented the delicate sweetness of the corn. On the other hand, the author explains, you can toast the sesame seeds until they brown and release their amazing fragrance (be careful not to burn), then grind them roughly before combining with sugar and soy sauce. The result now is a totally different goma-ae, one with a different flavor, different fragrance and different mouth feel - a dressing that works amazing with just blanched and shocked green beans.

A Japanese chef once described her cuisine to me as one characterized by laser-focused intent and precision. Even a home cook in a home kitchen can tap into this, just by preparing something as simple as sesame dressing.