Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Seaweed Demystified

Kelp, kombu, wakame, nori, laver, hijiki, dulse--what are all these sea greens? How do you tell them apart, and most importantly, what do you do with them? I lived in Japan for five years, so got a lot of exposure to nori, kelp, and hijiki, but dulse, for instance is more of a Canadian/European food, so is less familiar. Here's a seaweed primer—for you and for me.

The seaweed you are probably most familiar with is the one that goes in some sushi dishes: nori, or toasted laver. Highest in protein, nori makes a tasty and crispy snack. You can easily purchase packs of nori at almost any grocery store, but be careful of the Enjoy By date--nori goes stale quickly and isn't as fun to eat when not crispy

There many kinds of edible kelp, and among those, the three biggies are wakame, kombu, and arame.


Wakame is also fairly familiar as it is often served in miso soup. Tender, delicate, and delightful, wakame is the spinach of sea vegetables. It's also easy to work with. Throw a small amount of dried wakame into a hot beverage and poof!--in a minute or two, your wakame is ready to eat. Kids like wakame because it's fun to grab--slightly squirmy. Wakame has the most calcium of sea veggies, so it's a good one for anyone who is lactose intolerant or who restricts or does not consume dairy products.

Kombu is thick and comes in flat sheets. ALL kombu arrives with a light white dusty substance--just part of the gig. Usually in making kombu for Japanese soup stock base, the cooked kombu is thrown out before serving. But my family likes the mild taste and slight chewiness of kombu, so I slice it into thin slivers and put the kombu back in the soup after cooking it. Definitely a healthy food, kombu is a power house of minerals and vitamins. One only needs to use a little--a four-inch piece in a six-person serving of soup is plenty, so the package takes a while to use (and lasts seemingly forever).

Even for seaweed fans, arame is not a huge favorite. It's brownish rather than green and has a slight sliminess. If you know of good ways of incorporating arame into your diet, do let me know. I have lots to learn about it.

Hijiki is almost black and is firm strands with a stongish, oceany flavor. I'm not sure what to do with hijiki, other than to serve it in seaweed salads. My family turns their nose up at this healthy vegetable, so I don't get to eat it often.

Although not yet popular in the US, dulse has been around as a staple health/snack/fiber supplement in Canada, Ireland, and Iceland. Dulse has every trace element we humans need in order to thrive. Have a sluggish thyroid? Dulse will help you out.

Cucumber & Wakame Salad

  • 1 medium cucumber (or 1/2 English cucumber), sliced into thin rounds
  • A handful or 2 long pieces (if whole) rehydrated and softened wakame seaweed, cut into about 1" lengths
  • 3 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
  • A few shakes of Shiso Fumi furikake

Put wakame in a bowl and add enough water to cover the seaweed. Microwave for one or two minutes to heat the wakame and reconstitute it. Let sit for a few minutes and pour off any excess water. Add the other ingredients. Toss well and serve. Also good with a few shakes of irigoma (toasted sesame seeds).
  • This is a fat-free salad, but you could always sprinkle on a few drops of toasted sesame oil, if you like
  • This salad can also be made without furikake, but it's incredibly delicious with it.

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