Serving Up Sesame At Seed + Mill | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Serving Up Sesame At Seed + Mill

Serving Up Sesame At Seed + Mill

The Chelsea Market stall introduces sweet and savory sesame products to the American palate.

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Tahini, the Israeli kitchen staple made from ground sesame seeds, is making cameos on the menus of restaurants such as New York’s Ilili and the innovative farm-to-table Eugene restaurant in Atlanta. But at Seed + Mill, opened in January, tahini is the star.

At Seed + Mill, located in the busy foodie paradise of Chelsea Market, the tahini is milled on site using Ethiopian sesame seeds, ensuring a rich, malleable product, in contrast to the dauntingly dense stuff sold in your local supermarket.

Lisa Mendelson, one of the owners of Seed + Mill, had a hard time finding good tahini when she came to the U.S. from Israel.

“When you don’t have fresh tahini, the oil separates really quickly,” Mendelson told The Jewish Week in a recent phone interview. “I would buy a jar of tahini, and when I opened it everything was separated. It would take at least three minutes to stir. It was a mess.”

Seed + Mill offers three different flavors of their “high-end” tahini: pure, whole, and herb, which contains a bit of salt, garlic, and parsley.

“When you open our jar, you can see the difference,” Mendelson said. “There’s hardly any separation, which is a big deal. The flavor is really, really good.”

A selection of Seed + Mill’s 30 flavors of halvah, a sweet confection made from crushed sesame seeds, sits behind a glass case spanning most of the length of the food stall. Some are topped with green pistachios, others with shaved white chocolate or rose petals. Mendelson said the shop aims to take halvah “to the next level.”

“We are the only people selling a dairy version of halvah,” she said. “It has a bit of a more creamy flavor. We really wanted to introduce a healthy product to anyone who would be willing to try a new flavor.”

Seed + Mill is always developing new halvah flavors, some dairy and some vegan, said Mendelson. They offer a lavender flavor for the summer, which adds an herbaceous note to the natural nuttiness of the halvah. Most recently, they introduced a chili dark chocolate halvah to the menu, and they are currently working on a whiskey flavor. One of their most popular menu items is the goat milk ice cream, which is drizzled with tahini and topped with shaved halvah, making for a creamy, partly saccharine, partly savory bite.

Mendelson attributes the success of Seed + Mill to the quality of their products and to their prime location in Chelsea Market.

“Because it’s such a unique product, we were looking for a foodie community where people are interested in trying new stuff,” she said. “Building a brand, you need to be in the best position and in the best place, and Chelsea Market is by far the place to be for new food concepts. If we didn’t get into Chelsea Market, Seed + Mill wouldn’t have been born.”

Chelsea Market, a tourist hotspot, has allowed Seed + Mill to introduce the sesame products of the Middle East to people who would have never otherwise tried them. “It’s something that’s new to quite a lot of people, but when they taste it they’re like ‘Wow, this is amazing,’” Mendelson said.

Aside from the complex, addictive flavor of tahini and halvah, sesame products also pack a nutritional punch. Loaded with calcium, iron, antioxidants, and protein, sesame seeds are proven to lower cholesterol and promote the production of collagen, which aids in skin elasticity.

“People are starting to realize that instead of taking vitamins, you can have a tablespoon of tahini and you’re packing yourself with really good stuff,” Mendelson said.

The versatility of sesame products indigenous to the Middle East has caught the attention of chefs like Michelin star restauranteur Daniel Boulud, who uses Seed + Mill’s tahini in some of his dishes, such as Boulud Sud’s grapefruit givré dessert.

Dizengoff, Israeli-American Philadelphia-based chef Michael Solomonov’s hummus restaurant, recently opened steps away from Seed + Mill in Chelsea Market. The menu features different types of hummus and salatim, assortments of salads and dips. In his cookbook, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, Solomonov called tahini or tehina, as some prefer to call it, the “Israeli mother sauce.”

For home cooks, tahini is accessible and easy to integrate into everyday meals. Mendelson recommends sprinkling it on fish or vegetables, which adds another dimension of flavor.

Seed + Mill’s products are available in gourmet markets in Brooklyn such as The Brooklyn Kitchen and appetizing store and deli Shelsky’s.

“It’s definitely very trendy,” Mendelson said. “The whole Middle Eastern food scene is bursting. People are becoming more familiar with the product. There’s nothing like fresh tahini.”

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