These delicious sesame bars have been a part of the Greek culinary tradition since ancient times! You only need 2 ingredients to make this nutritious, ancient Greek superfood known today as Pasteli!
Pasteli is a classic, Greek snack! Not only is it delicious, but it’s healthy, too! It’s an incredible treat dating back to ancient Greece!
Sweets in ancient Greece
In ancient Greece, honey was believed to have come from the gods. It comes as no surprise that the ancient Greeks used honey for so many things since granulated sugar did not exist in ancient Greece; it arrived many centuries later. One popular honey and sesame seed delicacy was called Sisami (pronounced see-SA-mee), which is basically what modern-day Greeks refer to as Pasteli.
What is Pasteli?
Pasteli (pronounced pa-STE-lee) is a bar made with sesame seeds and honey. Various ancient Greek texts mention it, including Homer’s Iliad, where it was popular among the warriors. The father of history, Herodotus, also referred to it as “sweet cakes of sesame and honey”.
Variations of Pasteli today
Today, there are variations of Pasteli in the Middle East and around the Mediterranean, too.
In Greece, there is Pasteli made with sugar and/or a combination of nuts and spices. Pasteli made with sugar is hard and crunchy, almost like brittle. Pasteli made with just honey is much softer and chewier. The recipe in this post uses honey instead of sugar.
Why I think you’ll love this homemade pasteli:
- There are only 2 main ingredients, with a few optional add-ins.
- It’s quick.
- It’s pretty straightforward.
- It’s very healthy.
- It tastes great!
The health benefits of Pasteli
Sesame is known to be a great source of fiber, plant protein, and B vitamins. Pasteli is also rich in antioxidants, which are beneficial for overall health.
What you’ll need to make Pasteli
All you need is honey and sesame seeds. I always use good quality Greek honey. I briefly talk about the benefits of Greek honey in this post. Whenever I make desserts with honey, I find that the quality of the honey really makes a huge difference in the overall flavor. So, if you can’t get Greek honey, get the best honey you can or one you like!
How do you make Pasteli?
Different parts of Greece use different methods. Some areas make Pasteli in large metal pots and then the mixture is poured over a large marble slab or wooden board. Then it’s evened out and beaten with a wooden pin to the desired thickness.
Of course, these traditional methods aren’t really ideal for an ordinary kitchen! I have found a much easier way to make it at home.
First of all, I use a nonstick frying pan. It makes cleanup A LOT easier. I also like putting the pasteli in a square pan lined with parchment paper. That way, I can just lift it out and then cut it when it’s ready.
Here’s what I do:
If you don’t mind uneven slices, don’t use a pan at all! You can just spoon it onto a large sheet of parchment paper, but don’t touch it with your bare hands because it’s very hot!
Why use a pan?
A pan lets me make Pasteli as thick as I want. For example, a small pan will make thicker bars, whereas a larger pan will make thin ones. For this recipe, I used a 9 ½ inch (24.5 cm) pan and the bars came out to about ½ an inch (1 cm) thick. So, if you’re going to use a pan, pick one depending on how thick or thin you want your bars to be.
Here are a few ideas for add-ins to add more flavor:
- orange or lemon zest
- almonds, peanuts, or pistachio nuts
- ground nutmeg
- black pepper – Ancient Greeks used to put a lot of black pepper in a sweet called gastris! Some parts of Greece today still add black pepper to Pasteli! You might want to give it a try!
TIPS FOR SUCCESS
- I toast the sesame seeds in a nonstick pan, but you could toast them in the oven (350°F / 180°C) for about 15 minutes.
- Don’t overcook the Pasteli, otherwise it may become hard.
- When you spoon the mixture into the pan, don’t touch it! It’s very hot!
- Cut into bars or squares after about 15-20 minutes. If you wait longer than that, it will be too hard to cut.
- Store it in an air-tight container at room temperature with sheets of parchment paper between each bar to prevent them from sticking together.
Let me know how this Pasteli turned out for you in the comments below!
I’d love to hear from you!
HOW TO MAKE ANCIENT GREEK SESAME BARS (Pasteli)
- 200 g (7 oz) sesame seeds
- 200 g (7 oz) good quality (Greek) honey
- a pinch of salt
- 1-2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Line a pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Lightly toast the sesame seeds in a nonstick pan, until light golden brown. Put the toasted seeds in a bowl. Set aside.
- In the same nonstick pan, heat the honey on medium heat until it bubbles and foams.
- Add the seeds and all the remaining ingredients and stir continuously until the mixture thickens and isn't runny (about 5-6 minutes).
- Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and even it out with the back of a spoon. DON'T TOUCH THE MIXTURE WITH YOUR BARE HANDS - IT'S VERY HOT!
- Put a piece of parchment paper on top and press down to flatten and even out the surface.
- After about 15-20 minutes, it should easily bend and hold its shape. Lift it out of the pan and cut into bars or squares.
- Store in an airtight container at room temperature with pieces of parchment paper between each bar/square.
- Instead of toasting the sesame seeds in a nonstick pan, you could toast them in the oven (350°F / 180°C) for about 15 minutes.
- Don't overcook the mixture, otherwise it may become hard.
- Cut the Pasteli into bars or squares after about 10-20 minutes. If you wait longer than that, it will be too hard to cut.
- Pasteli is best on the day it’s made. It becomes a little bit harder the next day, but it still retains its chewiness.