There’s a reason I’m calling this “Toasted Sesame Dressing with Green Beans” and not “Green Beans with Sesame Dressing”. It’s really about the dressing, which is so shockingly good I’m kind of kicking myself for not sharing it sooner, nevermind regretting all the times I’ve NOT made it since we returned from our Super-Ultimate-Numbah-One Trip to Japan last summer. Sad. Sad. Sad.

Using freshly toasted and lightly crushed sesame seeds is critical to this dish’s amazing flavor and texture. Unlike most salad dressings, it isn’t very acidic, and surprisingly I don’t miss the bite at all. The rich, toasty sesame is intensely delicious, and the supporting soy, mirin, and rice vinegar round out the flavor without overpowering it.

We prepared this dish under the expert guidance of Hirayama sensei of the Kyoto Uzuki Cooking School. Hirayama sensei had a lovely suribachi–a ceramic Japanese-style mortar with a grooved interior and a wooden pestle, but I will grudgingly report that it’s totally do-able with a regular Western-style mortar and neither you nor I need to run out to get our own suribachi. (Mr. T sighs with relief.)

This is perhaps the most accessible of the many delicious dishes we prepared during our lesson, both in terms of shopping and eating. This dressing would go well with any chunky vegetables and would be a welcome addition to any summer picnic–particularly one with vegetarians or vegans floating about.

Toasted Sesame Dressing with Green Beans
Adapted from Hirayama Emi, Kyoto Uzuki Cooking School
Yield: 6 side servings

1 1/2 lbs green beans
6 tbs sesame seeds
2 1/2 tbs white miso
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs rice vinegar
2 tbs mirin (or 1/2 tbs honey)
2-3 tbs dashi or water

Rinse and top the green beans. Cut into 1″ lengths. Steam until crisp-tender, about 3-4 minutes, and immediately remove them to a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking. Drain very well on kitchen towels and set aside.

Heat a small frying pan (or saucepan) over medium high heat. Add the sesame seeds and shake around rather vigorously till the seeds are toastily fragrant and just starting to make popping noises. Immediately remove to a mortar and pestle and grind until roughly crushed–not all the way pulverized. (Both Hirayama sensei and I like the dressing with some texture.) Depending on the size of your mortar and pestle, you may have to do this in batches.

In a bowl large enough to hold the beans comfortably, combine the miso, soy, vinegar, and mirin and whisk together until evenly combined–watch out for lumps of miso in particular. Thin a bit with the dashi or water–it should remain a rather stiff paste–and mix well. Add cooled, drained green beans and toss to coat.