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The Mighty Sesame Seed


Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Lohri marks the transition of the sun into the zodiac sign of Capricorn. It signifies the end of the winter solstice and the beginning of longer days. This festival is celebrated with great fervor across India. Sesame seeds, known as "Til" in India, hold immense nutritional, cultural, and epicurean significance during the Makar Sankranti, Pongal, and Lohri festivals. These tiny seeds play a multifaceted role in the festivities, symbolizing prosperity, health, and the celebration of the harvest season.

 

From a nutritional standpoint, sesame seeds are a powerhouse of essential nutrients. They are rich in protein, healthy fats, dietary fiber, and an array of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. Consuming sesame seeds during these festivals is believed to provide warmth and energy, which is particularly beneficial during the winter season. Additionally, the practice of consuming sesame seeds is rooted in Ayurveda, where they are valued for their ability to nourish the body and promote overall well-being due to their multi-nutritional properties.

Til gul, a sweet treat made from sesame seeds and jaggery, holds great significance during the Sankranti festival in India. Sesame seeds provide nutritional benefits, as does Jaggery, a natural sweetener made from sugarcane juice or palm sap, is a healthier alternative to refined sugar as it retains vital minerals like iron and potassium.

 

Seasonally, Sankranti falls at a time when the winter crops, including sesame, are ready for harvest. The availability of fresh sesame seeds makes it the perfect time to prepare til gul and other sesame-based delicacies. By incorporating these freshly harvested ingredients into their culinary traditions, people honor the earth's bounty and celebrate the abundance of the season.

 

Culturally, sesame seeds are deeply intertwined with the traditions of Makar Sankranti, Pongal, and Lohri. During these festivals, sesame seeds are used to prepare a variety of sweets and savories, such as til ladoo, til chikki, and sesame seed rice. The act of exchanging these treats with family and friends symbolizes the sharing of joy and goodwill. In some regions, sesame seeds are also offered to the sacred fire as a symbol of gratitude for the bountiful harvest and as an auspicious offering for prosperity in the coming year.

 

As people come together to celebrate the arrival of spring and the harvest season, the presence of sesame seeds in their culinary traditions serves as a reminder of the abundance of nature and the richness of their cultural heritage. By savoring these sesame-infused delicacies, individuals not only indulge in their delightful flavors but also partake in a tradition that has been cherished for generations. This Sankranti, let the exchange of til gul be a reminder of the sweetness and warmth that binds us all together.

 

Here's a recipe for sesame seed-infused rice, which an amazing savory dish that’s often featured during this festival season.


Sesame Rice (Ellu Sadam) Recipe

 Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups cooked rice

  • 5 tbsp sesame seeds

  • 5 tbsp grated coconut

  • 3 tbsp oil

  • 1-1 ½ tsp mustard seeds

  • 1 ½ tsp urad dal

  • 1 ½ tsp chana dal

  • A few curry leaves

  • A pinch of asafoetida

  • 2-3 dried red chilies

  • ½-1 tsp of lemon juice

  • Salt to taste, pinch of sugar

  • Peas or Roasted peanuts (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Dry roast the sesame seeds and dry grated coconut until they turn light brown, then grind them to make a coarse powder.

  2. In a pan, heat the oil and add the mustard seeds. Once they start to splutter, add the urad dal, chana dal, curry leaves, asafoetida, and dried red chilies. Sauté until the dals turn golden brown.

  3. Add the ground sesame-coconut mixture and sauté for a couple of minutes.

  4. Add the cooked rice and salt, sugar and lemon juice to the pan, and mix well until the sesame-coconut mixture coats the rice evenly.

  5. Ellu Sadam is ready to be served!

Enjoy your delicious Ellu Sadam!

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