Monday, May 16, 2016

From Chelsea Market: A Seed, Without a Doubt

To find the most popular condiment of a region, just look at what commonly sits atop a piece of toast.  In Serbia, ajvar, a chunky red pepper and eggplant spread, is the most popular ingredient to slather over bread and meat. In Sweden, Kalles kavier, a tubed fish paste, graces the presence of the famed quadrilateral carbohydrate.  Here in America, you’d be hard-pressed to find the usual suspects—butter, peanut butter, mayonnaise, mustard—absent from any household pantry.

In the Middle East, that staple condiment is tahini: known exclusively to American grocery-shoppers as a bitter jar of sesame seed paste that within weeks of refrigeration, separates into a thick layer of gluey oil followed by a hard, crusty base. We may find its raw form simply unappetizing, but for Israeli cum New Yorker Lisa Mendelson, this gross misconstruing of the tahini namesake sitting on our supermarket shelves was downright appalling.  Vexed by both the quality and compromised integrity of her beloved native food stateside, Lisa set out to perennially change the American standard and perception of tahini. Her contrivance? A New York City production mill dedicated to making superior tahini; its name, Seed + Mill, a reflection of the humble process. The local shop is less than a year old, yet already making an indelible mark on our epicurean city.
“Tahini is this super trendy food right now,” co-founder Rachel Simons told me brightly one morning at the Seed + Mill kiosk, a sun-drenched white marble counter basking in the middle of foodie-haven Chelsea Market. “But people need to understand that this is an ingredient that can stand on its own.”
 Since the entity is literally just crushed sesame seeds, both “sesame seed paste” and “sesame butter” are appropriate monikers for tahini.  But try Seed + Mill’s product—their seeds are milled on site— and the latter definitely becomes the more fitting name. The thick liquid is impossibly creamy and wonderfully sweet, with a uniform consistency apropos to the inside of a perfectly-cooked molten lava cake. One doesn’t need to be convinced of its toast-topping potential—the whole jar begs to be consumed by the spoonful.

In fact, the Seed + Mill tahini is so unexpectedly saccharine that I wondered if sugar was utilized as an additive. This nuance, Rachel assured me, is simply the result of the superior quality of their seeds. “The reason we were having such a difficult time finding good tahini in New York was because of a lack of good seeds,” she explained.  Theirs are sourced from a small town in Ethiopia called Humera, where particular climatic conditions beget natural sweetness.
With a quality tahini product under their belt, Lisa, Rachel, and third partner Monica turned to their next goal: educating customers on the versatility of the product.  “It’s such a great, multi-purpose ingredient that no one is using the way that they can,” Rachel exclaimed. “We  want it to become a pantry item. What gets us really excited,” she added, gesturing to a stack of recipe cards for tahini truffles near the register, “is all of the sweet things you can make with it.” Indeed, the nutty, buttery undertone lends itself perfectly to claiming the primary fat base for any cookie, brownie or blondie—and thanks to its inherent sweetness, sugar quantity can be drastically reduced (or eliminated altogether, as seen in their two-ingredient truffles).  

This is not to say that Seed + Mill ignores the savory capabilities of their sesame butter, however. In an effort to counter the widespread belief that tahini’s foremost use is in the overly garlicky dip that complements any falafel, Seed + Mill created a “green herb” version, simply mixing parsley, dehydrated garlic, and salt with their house-milled seeds. Verdantly sublime, the concoction is like a viscous, nutty Green Goddess dressing. Add a squeeze of lemon, and it’s Rachel’s go-to accoutrement for everything from rainbow carrots to roasted potatoes.

On-site, Seed + Mill serves goat milk tahini ice-cream and over a dozen rotating flavors of halva, a popular Middle Eastern dessert with a crystalline, mousse-like texture. Through different mediums, both showcase tahini’s signature nuttiness, subtle sweetness, and innate versatility. They are remarkably excellent.
But if the hallmark of an enduring foodstuff is its ability to couple with a piece of toast, let’s bring tahini back to the bread. Do you prefer a multigrain loaf, or are you a classic Wonder white bread type? Is the mood calling for sweet or savory? If the former, try mixing Seed + Mill classic tahini with date syrup, pomegranate molasses, or honey. Slather generously atop said piece of toast. Top with sliced banana, coconut flakes, and a smattering of black and white sesame seeds.
If salt and spice are on the mind, start with green herb tahini (you can easily make your own by adding minced parsley, garlic, and salt to the plain version) plus a quick squeeze of fresh lemon juice.  Spread amply atop said piece of toast. Top with sliced avocado, crushed red pepper flakes, and a sprinkling of sea salt and assorted sesame seeds.
Mealtime and occasion are inconsequential; everyone knows that toast is a sensible option at any hour of the day. What is of note, however, is the restored integrity that is brought to tahini by simply consuming on a piece of toast. Rendering what was obsolete to the every day—a sesame seed mindshift, if you will—this is Seed + Mill’s ultimate aspiration. When its home becomes the comfort of your own kitchen, one thing’s for sure: this seed, without a doubt, is here to stay.

Seed + Mill is located in Chelsea Market at 409 West 15th Street, New York, NY 10011. To view products and flavors, visit their website. To place an order, email

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