KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 25 – Who knows what is going on with the weather nowadays. Sometimes it is raining cats and dogs; other times it feels as though we are in the midst of a heatwave, albeit one that can give way to a storm in a heartbeat.

One must be well prepared for either scenario, even in the kitchen.

For the latter, a bowl of snow fungus tongsui with ginkgo nuts and red dates will help cool off the most parched of nerves.

When it’s pouring, however, one might need some warming up. Which is where a bowl or two of black sesame paste or (zi ma wu in Cantonese) will come in handy.

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Made from little more than black sesame seeds, rice flour and water, this tong sui is considered to be warming in accordance with traditional Chinese medicine. Perfect for colder days and rainy seasons.

Rich in minerals and vitamins such as iron, magnesium, vitamin B and vitamin E, black sesame seeds are believed to help detoxify the body, replenish blood and even rejuvenate dull-looking hair.

Black sesame seeds differ from white sesame seeds as they still have the hulls on.
Black sesame seeds differ from white sesame seeds as they still have the hulls on.

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Black sesame seeds differ from white sesame seeds as they still have the hulls on. (If one uses the white variety, the result might be akin to tahini, which would be great in a creamy hummus but not so much a tong sui.)

Ribbons of ebony goodness.
Ribbons of ebony goodness.

But for us who adore tong sui of every colour and consistency, it’s really about relishing unctuous ribbons of ebony goodness as one enjoys one spoonful after another. Yums!

ZI MA WU (BLACK SESAME PASTE)

As with any recipe, there are always shortcuts. With popular types of tong sui, particularly "pastes” such as peanut paste or walnut paste, one can always get ready-made powdered forms. Just add boiling water, stir and you will have a bowl ready to enjoy!

They don’t quite taste the same though.

The same applies to zi ma wu; you can find sachets of black sesame paste powders at Chinese herbal shops and even supermarkets nowadays but discerning tong sui lovers will find the end results, while convenient and quick to prepare, lacking in some flavour and, most of all, a fresh and nutty aroma.

Roast the black sesame seeds before cooking to release their intense aroma and flavour.
Roast the black sesame seeds before cooking to release their intense aroma and flavour.

Honestly, it’s really just one more extra step to roast the black sesame seeds before cooking to release their intense aroma and flavour.

It’s not much more, yet what you get for your efforts is absolutely rewarding: a truly fragrant bowl of zi ma wu. You taste the subtle bitterness of the black sesame seeds more clearly but also enjoy a cleaner, more "sesame-y” aroma rather than a stale, greasy odour.

How much water you need also depends on the individual. Consider the measurements in this recipe as a guide, not a directive.

Some are partial to a thicker, more oozing consistency.
Some are partial to a thicker, more oozing consistency.

Some are partial to a thicker, more oozing consistency. Others might like something more watery, akin to a real Cantonese "dessert soup” – there’s no right or wrong.

Simmer for longer to reduce the liquids or add water as needed to get the right consistency for you. As with all things in life, you do you for you know best your own preferences.

Ingredients

250g black sesame seeds

600 ml water (for the paste)

3-4 tablespoons sugar (depending on preferred sweetness)

1 tablespoon rice flour

50 ml water (for slurry)

Method

Alternatively, do a dry stir-fry in a wok over medium to medium high heat. Stir constantly with your spatula to ensure even browning.

Once the black sesame seeds start producing a nutty, toasty aroma, turn off the heat. Set the black sesame seeds aside and allow to cool.

After the black sesame seeds have cooled sufficiently, transfer these into a blender to create a powder. Start with a gentle pulse before blending on high until you get a fine powder but before the seeds have started releasing any oils.

Pour the black sesame paste mixture into a pot. Add the water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low. Add the sugar, stirring briskly till the sugar has dissolved.

Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture for about 10 minutes. Stir from time to time to prevent any mixture from burning at the bottom of the pot.

To make the slurry, combine the rice flour and water in a small bowl. Make sure there are no lumps before adding to the black sesame mixture. Stir and remove from heat once the black sesame paste has thickened to your desired consistency.

Allow the black sesame paste to rest in the covered pot for half an hour or more. This will relax the tong sui, allowing the flavours to deepen. Serve warm rather than piping hot.

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