June 3, 2014

Love, Now and 芝麻糊 Zhīma Hú | Black Sesame Porridge

Earlier this year, I watched a Taiwanese drama called Love, Now | 真愛趁現在 Zhēn Ài Chèn Xiàn Zài starring George Hu 胡宇威 and Annie Chen 陳庭妮.

I'd heard so much about it that I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

George and Annie reportedly had amazing chemistry in the television series and it was such a ratings hit that Sanlih E-Television, Love Now's production company, immediately paired the two together in another collaboration, Love Around | 真愛黑白配 Zhēn Ài Hēi Bái Pèi, that aired a few months later.

I didn't enjoy Love, Now as much as I was expecting to. George and Annie did have great chemistry together but at 72 episodes, it was a bit long. I enjoyed the first half of the show but the storyline got a little thin towards the end and I grew impatient with it.

However, what the drama did do was make me nostalgic for some 芝麻糊 or Black Sesame Porridge.

In the drama, whenever Annie's character was feeling down, she would eat Black Sesame Porridge to feel better. I don't remember 芝麻糊 being THAT magical, but watching Annie eat bowls of it made me long for a taste too.

芝麻糊, romanized as zhīma hú, is a traditional Chinese dessert made with black sesame seeds and rice. It's said that black sesame seeds are good for digestion, relieving constipation, and keeping hair black and glossy.

A dessert that's good for you? Bring it on!

I have to confess, I probably only finished Love, Now because George Hu's face was so pretty to look at.

I have my shallow moments.

I have another confession to make: I was nearly defeated by this Black Sesame Porridge.

I tried the traditional way of soaking the rice and blending it with water but my porridge always ended up with rice bits. Not reminiscent of the smooth texture I remember 芝麻糊 being at all. I also couldn't get the sesame seeds to be fine enough and the result would be a graininess that did NOT make my mouth happy.

But, last weekend, after starting this 芝麻糊 adventure in April, I finally, FINALLY, came up with a Black Sesame Porridge that I'm happy with.

This 芝麻糊 better have magical qualities after all the experiments-gone-wrong that I've ingested for the past two months. I hope my hair stays black (really, dark brown) and shiny for a long, long time.

Who wants to know how to make some 芝麻糊?

I do.

Who's excited?

I am!

Who's a nerd?


Okay, okay, I'm stopping.

Let's do this.

We start with 4 tablespoons raw black sesame seeds and 1 tablespoon white rice.

Wash your rice in a sieve or a cup or a bowl or whatever floats your boat. But a sieve is easiest.

Pat your rice dry and scoop into a coffee grinder.

Grind until the rice grains are really really fine. Like powder. Or snow.

When in doubt, keep grinding. We are essentially making rice flour, so if you're looking for a quicker way to do this, buy some rice flour.

Pour the rice powder into a pot so that it looks like you're about to cook up something illegal in your kitchen.

Add a cup of water and stir to make sure everything's evenly distributed. Let soak for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour the black sesame seeds into a pan and toast over high heat, stirring the seeds or shaking the pan a couple of times. Toast seeds until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.

You can wash your seeds before toasting, if you're ambitious like that, but the seeds will need a few more minutes in the pan to dry out and toast.

If you're like me, and get bored easily, feel free to make drawings in your pan while waiting for your sesame seeds to toast.

But, be careful not to let them burn or you'll end up with bitter-tasting 芝麻糊.

Ahem, do you see my subliminal message?

When you're done playing with your food, pour the seeds into a bowl to cool. Listen to the sounds of the seeds crackling. Try not to plant your face in the bowl.

After about 5 minutes, pour seeds into a coffee grinder and let it rip!

When I first tried to make this recipe, I stopped grinding the black sesame seeds when it reached the powder stage, which was my first mistake. If your seeds look like the photo below, you need to keep grinding because we're only halfway there.

After the billionth attempt, I realized that I needed to make sesame paste in order to get the seeds fine enough to get rid of that sandy texture. So, your final stage should look black like this:

This is the stage right before sesame butter so, if you'd like to know how to make sesame butter, this is how you do it: lots more grinding action.

Scoop the ground sesame into your rice mixture and grab some rock sugar.

I use rock sugar because it's the traditional way to make it - and because it reminds me of my childhood - but if you can't find any, 1½-2 teaspoons of sugar (more or less, depending on your sweet tooth), or any sweetener of your choice is fine.

Add the rock sugar to the pot and place on high heat, stirring constantly.

You really must stir constantly or your porridge will get lumpy and burn. After 2-3 minutes, the mixture will start to thicken up.

Keep stirring! You'll see that your porridge will start getting darker.

Around 3-4 minutes, the mixture will start to simmer and boil. Reduce to medium-low heat and keep stirring because the porridge will continue to thicken.

Cook for another 4-5 minutes until the porridge is black and shiny.

Pour into a bowl and serve. I made two servings because my mama wanted some too.

Still a little bit lumpy but I'll take it! My mom said she'll try to borrow a traditional grinding machine from her friend to see if we can get the rice and sesame grinds even finer - that would be fun to play with but in the meantime, I think this is pretty good!

I can feel my gray hairs turning back to black already.

This is a basic recipe for Black Sesame Porridge. My mom suggested adding nuts and oats, or whatever else you'd like, but I prefer my 芝麻糊 to be simple. Feel free to experiment!

If you try this, let me know what you think in the comments! Or, if you have any tips, feel free to shout that out too.

Black Sesame Porridge | 芝麻糊
Makes 1 serving

  • 4 tablespoons black sesame seeds
  • 1 heaping tablespoon white rice
  • 1 cup water
  • a few pieces of rock sugar  or 1½-2 teaspoons sugar
  1. Wash rice grains, drain, and pat dry.
  2. In a coffee grinder or spice grinder, process rice until powdery.
  3. Add to a small pot and cover with 1 cup of water. Add more if you would like a thinner consistency. Let soak for 15 minutes.
  4. In a large pan, toast sesame seeds over high heat until fragrant and nutty. About 2-3 minutes. Make sure you do not burn the seeds or they will not be usable.
  5. Transfer to a bowl and when cool, grind seeds in a coffee grinder until paste-like.
  6. Add to the rice mixture and set pot over high heat. Add rock sugar and stir constantly. 
  7. The porridge will start to thicken after 2-3 minutes, make sure you do not stop stirring the pot or the mixture will clump together and burn.
  8. When the porridge boils, reduce to medium-low heat and stir for another 4-5 minutes.
  9. When the porridge is black and shiny, turn off heat and serve. Enjoy!

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