During my period of Chinese postpartum confinement (坐月子, zuo yuezi) I ate lots of sesame seeds. Mostly it was in the form of sesame oil, included in liberal amounts in soups and stir-fries. But one sweet treat was black sesame congee (芝麻糊, zhimahu).
Every afternoon at around 3.00pm, my confinement nanny — or yuepo — Mrs Yang, would cook me a bowl of sweet congee. Usually it wasn’t as sweet as I would have liked, and she cautioned that it would be difficult to lose weight if I kept eating sugar laden food. Doh! But rock sugar and black sugar can be eaten in moderation during zuo yuezi, especially in the first few weeks after childbirth when a woman’s energy level is low.
I love black sesame. Although black sesame sweets are uniquely Asian, they somehow remind me of European-style marzipan. I guess it the combination of pulverized seeds and sugar is similar to the almond-sugar mixture in marzipan. It is easy enough to buy pre-prepared black sesame congees, but it tastes so much better if you make it yourself. The dry-roasting brings out the sesame flavour, and when I lifted the top of the blender the smell that wafted out was just divine.
I modified this recipe to make it more palatable for Western taste buds. Add less sugar if you prefer, although I think this amount is just right.
1/2 cup black sesame seeds
1/3 cup corn flour
1/3 cup rock sugar
2 tablespoons Taiwanese black sugar (brown sugar)
5 cups cold water
- In a dry wok or heavy saucepan (I used my cast iron fry pan), dry fry the sesame seeds until they begin to smoke. Watch them carefully and stir as you do it; it should take no longer than a minute but the seeds can burn quickly if you are not careful.
- Remove from the heat and transfer into a blender, food processor or coffee grinder. Process for a few minutes until powdery (but do not over process). Add the sugars and continue to pulverize.
- Combine the corn flour with the corn flour in a large saucepan. Stir until combined, and then add the remainder of the water. Heat on the stove top for a few minutes until the mixture begins to warm.
- Add the sesame seed/sugar mixture to the cornflour mixture one spoonful at a time and stir until combined. Continue to stir for several minutes, until the mixture thickens to almost the consistency of cream.
- Ladle into bowls and serve. Can be reheated.