sea vegetables for the win

Born without a real taste for sweets, when a sugar craving needs to be satisfied fruit will normally do it for me. I'm instead one of those folks with a mouthful of salt-teeth. But since eating truckloads of salt can lead to such funtimes conditions as high blood pressure, which can in turn cause heart disease and other health problems, I try to limit my sodium intake as much as possible.

Enter sea vegetables.

Sea vegetables, or seaweeds (a name which really, really doesn't do these tasty treats any justice), are for me one of the most wonderful things that can be grown or foraged. Salty and smoky and complexly flavoured and textured, and present in such huge quantities and varieties, it's just gravy that they're also so damn good for you, and naturally relatively low in sodium to boot.

Can I get an amen?

beautiful Atlantic dulse from Grand Manan Island, here in New Brunswick

When I first moved to New Brunswick, I was amazed upon walking into my local grocer's to find huge bags of dulse for sale alongside the potatoes and cabbages and turnips. Dulse was always hard to come by in Ottawa, where I'd have to sidle up to the counter in the downtown fishmarket like Bogie in a dark speakeasy and, trying to ignore all the dead sea life around me, sneakily grab the sad little bags of purple fronds that no one else loved and then brave the strange looks at checkout. While most people are acquainted with a few types of sea veggies (most notably nori, which is used in making sushi), many varieties are largely ignored in Western folks' everyday diets. Which is a real shame. So consider this my public service announcement, with tasty recipes to boot.

dried wakame can be bought either pre-shredded or in large sheets that are folded over themselves

My favourite ways of eating sea vegetables, apart from just straight-up chewing away on them like a cow on her cud, all focus on simple recipes or techniques that, like the majority of my recipes, leave the flavours of the veggies at the fore. Here are a couple of 'em.

when toasted, dulse turns almost camouflage-y and mimics a good salty chip

dulse chips

A method not a recipe, dulse chips are one of the easiest and tastiest snacks you'll ever munch on while watching a movie or mindlessly trolling blogs. Dulse chips can also be crumbled and sprinkled on popcorn, mixed into mashed potatoes (so very tasty) or sprinkled on salads, soups, stews, &c., for a tasty smoky salty bite and a faint taste of the sea (as in my riffed gumbo recipe).

To make 'em, simply turn your broiler on at 350°F, chop your dulse into whatever size pieces you fancy, and lay it in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Set in the upper-third of your oven for about 2 minutes - they'll get yellow-green, and some will stay pinky-purple, but don't let them get black (personally, I like them a bit burnt but apparently carcinogens aren't good for you so we'll just pretend I never said that). Take 'em out and let 'em cool.

Once cool, they can either be eaten plain, or sprayed with a bit of olive oil and tossed in nutritional yeast, spices, whatever you like (personally, I go for either a dusting of my Cajun spice mix or simply some freshly ground black pepper).

wild rice with konbu, shiitakes, and scallions

For those unfamiliar with konbu (aka kombu), it's a form of kelp indispensable in Japanese cooking used in the making of dashi and for adding a savoury undernote (or umami, the fifth basic taste element) to just about anything imaginable. This recipe takes a bit of time and requires some foresight, but it's well worth the wait and the majority of the waiting is just that - waiting. It's downtime. So turn up your stereo and get your dancing shoes on or grab a good book and rock out with your geek self. I've separated the ingredients into groupings which correlate to the recipe's steps, as you first need to make a konbu and shiitake stock (konbu to shiitake no dashi), then cook the wild rice, then assemble.

what you need ...

2" x 3" piece dried konbu
6 small dried shiitake mushrooms
2 1/4 c. water

1/2 c. wild rice, well rinsed

2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 large scallions, thinly sliced on the bias
1 Tbsp. genmai (brown rice) miso (or your favourite miso)
1 1/2 tsp. unseasoned sweet brown rice vinegar
1 tsp. low-sodium tamari (wheat-free)
1/2 tsp. brown rice syrup (or agave nectar, or unrefined sugar)
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

what you do ...

For the konbu to shiitake no dashi, combine konbu, shiitakes, and water in a small pot and let sit at least two hours. Once the two hours are up, bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove shiitakes and konbu and reserve.

Measure out 1 1/2 c. of the dashi (adding water if necessary to reach 1 1/2 c.) and bring to a boil. Add wild rice, stir once, then cover and reduce heat. Let rice simmer 50-60 minutes, or until the grains have started to puff up. Stir with a fork, and let simmer uncovered another 5 minutes. Drain and reserve excess liquid if there is any.

Dissolve miso in 2 Tbsp. rice cooking liquid (or water, if there was no liquid left in the rice). Add rice vinegar, tamari, and rice syrup. Mix well and set aside.

Remove stems from shiitakes and discard, then thinly slice the caps. Slice konbu as thinly as possible.

Heat sesame oil in a non-stick skillet and fry garlic very briefly. Add sliced konbu and shiitakes and continue stir-frying for about a minute. Toss in scallions and fry just until they start to cook, then add cooked wild rice and mix well.

Pour in the sauce, toss well, and let cook just until heated through, stirring constantly. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper.

pseudo sunomono

I call this a pseudo sunomono because the traditional version of this delicious salad doesn't contain zucchini, but as we know I'm a big zucchini lover and my garden is in full production mode. If you want to make this and aren't experiencing a zucchini flood or just don't like this summer squash, by all means feel free to replace the zucchini with more cucumber, but I personally love the taste and textural contrast. Using yellow zucchini lends a lovely colour - sadly, I didn't grow any this year.

what you need ...

1 medium English cucumber, unpeeled, thinly sliced in rounds
1 medium zucchini, unpeeled, thinly sliced in rounds
1/2 tsp. salt
1 large piece dried wakame, about 10" long
2 Tbsp. unseasoned sweet brown rice vinegar
2 tsp. unrefined sugar (or agave nectar)
3/4 tsp. low-sodium tamari (wheat-free)
1/2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
toasted black sesame seeds

what you do ...

Combine sliced cucumber and zucchini in a fine-meshed strainer placed over a bowl, toss with salt, and let stand 30 minutes to sweat.

Have ready a bowl filled with ice water.

Meanwhile, place wakame in another bowl and pour boiling water over top to rehydrate. Let stand about 5 minutes, or until wakame is softened but still rubbery - don't let it get mushy. Drain and immediately plunge into ice water to stop from "cooking". Remove tough rib and discard (or, if you're me, chew on it while you make the 'mono), pat dry, and slice or tear wakame into bite-sized pieces.

In a jar, combine vinegar, sugar, and tamari and shake until sugar is dissolved. Add sesame oil, shake again, and let stand while you prepare the salad.

Once the cucumber and zucchini have finished sweating, rinse very quickly under cold water to remove salt and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Pat dry with a clean tea towel.

Combine veggies and wakame in a bowl, give the dressing one last shake, and pour over top of veggies. Toss to coat, then let stand at least 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with toasted black sesame seeds.

arame, daikon, and carrot salad with spicy-sweet ginger dressing

what you need ...

1 small daikon, peeled and finely shredded *
1 medium carrot, scrubbed (or peeled) and finely shredded
1/3 c. shredded dried arame
2" piece fresh ginger, grated
1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed
2 1/2 Tbsp. unseasoned sweet brown rice vinegar
1/2 - 3/4 tsp. low-sodium tamari (wheat-free)
1/2 tsp. sriracha (a scant 1/2 tsp.)
1/2 tsp. unrefined sugar (or agave nectar)

what you do ...

Toss daikon and carrot with salt and put in a fine-mesh strainer placed over a bowl. Let sweat at least 30 minutes.

In a small jar, combine ginger, garlic, rice vinegar, tamari, sriracha, and sugar and shake well. Let sit while you prepare the salad.

Pour boiling water over arame and let stand 5 minutes. Drain, rinse, and place in a small pot with enough fresh water to cover. Simmer 5-7 minutes, then drain and rinse thoroughly under very cold water. Drain again and pat dry.

Once the daikon and carrots have finished sweating, squeeze out as much moisture as possible, rinse quickly under cold water to remove salt, and squeeze again. Combine with arame in a non-reactive bowl, mix, then pour dressing over top and toss to combine.

Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving to allow flavours to marry - this salad is even better the day after it's made.

* I use a julienne peeler to shred the daikon and carrots. It set me back about $10, I think, and is one of my favourite and most-used kitchen gadgets.


Usha said...

Wow,loved the salad and the pseudo sunomono..looks very tasty :)

Melody S. said...

Amen, now I want to eat more sea vegetables:)

VeganCowGirl said...

What a funny and informative post!

Sal said...

That is a lot of tasty looking food you've posted there. I wonder if they sell such things in my crappy local supermarket.....

Rajani said...

never tried sea veggies!! i love your post - but will i try them now if i ever get my hands on sea veg. ummmm don't know, maybe a nibble?! but i know where to look now on how to eat your sea veggies.

- L said...

thanks for the sweetness, all.

Sal & Rajani: if they don't have them at your local grocer's, one of the other great things about sea vegetables is that, being dehydrated, they weigh next to nothing. so if you ever wanted to order some off the 'net, the postage wouldn't kill you.