Everything You Need to Know About Seaweed
When most of us hear the word "seaweed," we think of nori, the pressed dried sheets of kelp used to wrap around sushi. But those papery sheets are just a small sampling of the abundance of sea vegetable varieties, the term I prefer to use in place of the invasive word “weed” for these aquatic vegetables. Ranging in color, texture, and flavor, the myriad types of marine species all pack a mighty nutritional punch.
One of the most mineral-rich natural foods around, our bodies receive intense benefits from the balanced levels of sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, and iodine the vegetables derive from the ocean water in which they live. The health benefits are many, but the most highly touted are the regulation of thyroid function, detoxification of heavy metals in the blood, prevention of radiation absorption, sleep and weight issues, and even the reduction of gastrointestinal stress (add Kombu to beans when cooking to reduce gassiness!).
Even though sea vegetables are only recently gaining mainstream popularity, they have a rich cross-cultural history in both culinary and homeopathic uses. According to The National Ocean Service, “many seaweeds contain anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial agents. Their known medicinal effects have been legion for thousands of years; the ancient Romans used them to treat wounds, burns, and rashes. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that the ancient Egyptians may have used them as a treatment for breast cancer. Certain seaweeds do, in fact, possess powerful cancer-fighting agents that researchers hope will eventually prove effective in the treatment of malignant tumors and leukemia in people. While dietary soy was long credited for the low rate of cancer in Japan, this indicator of robust health is now attributed to dietary seaweed.”
You will primarily find sea vegetables in dried form, and most (besides dulse and nori) will need to be re-hydrated in warm water for about 10-15 minutes before using. And if the thought of eating “fishy” seaweed plagues you (my issue for many years!), try arame and wakame—the mildest and sweetest of the varieties.
We spoke to a nutritionist, chef, and food blogger to get their takes on the vegetables of the sea:
1. Lia Huber, founder of Nourish Network (nourishnetwork.com), a site that empowers people to make a permanent shift from processed food to real food by making little tweaks to their everyday life, tells us "Kombu—love it! Kombu is dried sea kelp gives that special 'somethin somethin’ to stock, soup, beans, you name it. It's also one of two ingredients to make the super simple dashi broth, which is the base for miso soup and all kinds of other Japanese soups. Kombu pumps up umami much like a dash of soy sauce or dollop of miso does, but with much less sodium. Plus, it's packed with vitamins, trace minerals and amino acids."
2. “One of my favorite ways to incorporate sea vegetables into my diet is using store bought kelp noodles. For anyone following a low-carb, paleo, gluten-free, or raw diet they are a great, low-calorie alternative to pasta with only 6 calories per serving,” says Kristen McCaffrey of Slender Kitchen. (slenderkitchen.com) Her favorite recipe using kelp noodles is a quick Asian noodle salad. Mix ¼ cup seasoned rice wine vinegar with 3 tbsp. white miso, 1 tbsp. lime juice, 1 inch grated ginger, 1 garlic clove, 1 tbsp. honey, and 2-3 tbsp. sesame oil to create the dressing. Toss with the kelp noodles and your favorite chopped veggies. Sprinkle cashews or sesame seeds on top for a delicious side dish or meal.
3. Chef Aine McAteer is macrobiotic personal chef for many of Hollywood's A-listers and author of the renowned Recipes to Nurture, which focuses on macrobiotic principles of balance to turn organic produce into delicious dishes. She says “I like to refer to seaweed as "jewels from the sea" because, in my world, they've been elevated to that level. Perhaps it's because they became my lifesavers at a time when I was destined to be dependent on medication for life for my thyroid problem. It was these humble jewels that came to my rescue, offering me the nutrition my body needed to keep my thyroid functioning without the medication.”
A quick look at the most common types of Sea Vegetables, most of which belong to one of three broad groups: green, red, and brown algae.
Thin, flat, and green and often eaten raw in salads and cooked in soups. It is high in protein, soluble dietary fiber, and a variety of vitamins and minerals, especially iron.
Found in a dried powdered form and used often as a condiment sprinkled over hot foods. It contains rich minerals such as calcium, magnesium, lithium, and amino acids such as methionine.
Red-brown in color, dulse comes powdered or in whole dried leaves, an excellent source of potassium and protein. Chewy and salty, you can eat it straight out of the package or pan fry, which produces a smell akin to bacon and is often likened to jerky.
Most commonly used in sushi rolls, you can find nori packaged in dried pressed sheets and now widely available in flavored snack form. Tons of iodine and vitamin C, great as a wrapper or crushed and sprinkled as a condiment.
A variety of Kelp, Sweet, mild wiry black shreds that have a high quantity of calcium, iodine, potassium, vitamin A and dietary fiber.
Kombu is a leafy kelp variety that comes packaged in thick strips or sheets, and is a beautiful purple color, and essential in the creation of the Japanese broth Dashi. Eating it adds iodine, calcium, magnesium and iron to your diet. Try adding it to broths, soups, or beans (aids in digestion and reduces gas),
Deep green-gray in color, wakame is tender, sweet, and salty. Supplies dietary fiber and potassium. Rehydrate to expand up to seven times its original size and the long silky fronds are great cooked or raw. Wakame is the green vegetable seen in Miso soups.
Cooking for Luv’s Buckwheat Noodle Cakes with Sea Vegetable Salad and Ginger Sesame Dressing
Yield: 6 Cakes
Cook Time: 30 Minutes (plus 1 hour for noodles to set)
1 Package of Dry Buckwheat Noodles, or 3 packages of pre-cooked packaged Buckwheat noodles (Annie Chun’s Organic Buckwheat Soba Noodles work well)
1 Package of Mixed Sea Vegetables (I use Ohsawa Sea Vegetable Salad, a medley of Wakame, Green Nori, Kombu, Agar Agar, and Akamodoki, but you can mix and match your favorite dried Sea Vegetables)
½ Cup Julienned Cucumbers
½ Cup Julienned Carrots
½ Cup Julienned Daikon Radish
¼ Cup of Finely Sliced Scallions
¼ Cup Light Sesame Oil or Canola Oil
1 Tablespoon Toasted Sesame Oil
2 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
1 Clove Minced Garlic
1 Tablespoon of Minced Fresh Ginger Root
2 Tablespoon Rice Wine Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Lime Juice
1 Tablespoon Honey or Agave
Cook Soba noodles in rapidly boiling water for 5 minutes (1 minute longer than package instructions). Drain (do not rinse, we need the starch to hold the noodles together) and toss with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Grease a 9×9 square baking dish with sesame oil, and pour drained noodles in (should be about 1.5 inches high). Refrigerate for at least one hour, until noodles are cool and set into a mold.
If using pre-cooked noodles, skip this step
- Make your Dressing
Combine all ingredients in a mason jar, cover and shake vigorously to combine. (I like to grate my ginger and garlic on a microplane to get the mince incredibly fine. If you don’t have one, do a rough chop and use a blender instead of a jar to mix your dressing)
- Make your Salad
Place your sea vegetables in a bowl of cool water to hydrate for 10 minutes, remove from water and drain well
Toss the sea vegetables with the fresh vegetables
- Make your Noodle Cakes
Cut your noodles with a large ring mold or cookie cutter (a glass will even work in a pinch). Remove the remaining noodles from your baking dish (save for snacking) and pour ½ of the dressing into the pan. Carefully place the noodle cakes in the pan, and let soak for 5 minutes on each side.
Heat a nonstick frying pan on high heat, place the noodle cakes in the pan, and sear each side until golden and crispy, about 1 minute.
Plate your noodle cakes, top with a generous helping of the salad, drizzle with more dressing, and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve at room temperature or warm.
Stephanie Goldfinger is a vegetarian and vegan chef and the owner of Cooking for Luv, in Los Angeles. She teaches take-out enthusiasts tired of the microwave how to shed the paper menus through Cooking 101 Lessons, and helps busy folks warm the hearts and bellies of their loved ones with Personal Chef Services. cookingforluv.com