Long eaten in coastal nations around the world, seaweed is now widely available in American markets. And it’s not just for sushi. Add it to soups, salads, stir-fries and side dishes — or as an alternative to salt and pepper — for rich flavor and a healthy dose of minerals.
Sea vegetables, or seaweeds, are forms of algae. The most widely available sea vegetables are categorized as green (sea lettuce), red (nori, dulse) and brown (arame, hijiki, kombu, wakame). In general, sea vegetables taste like cooked greens. While they have an array of subtle flavor distinctions, all seaweeds share a salty and savory taste and, because they contain dimethyl sulfide, carry the aroma of coastal air. When purchasing, select sea vegetables stored in tightly wrapped packages. Purchase organic whenever possible, because sea vegetables can absorb heavy metals from polluted ocean water. (To be labeled organic, sea vegetables must meet specific guidelines — such as not having been harvested near industrial-waste drainage sites and not having been treated with preservatives during preparation.)
Sea vegetables offer the broadest range of minerals of any food, and they contain more than 10 times the amount of minerals found in land vegetables. They’re especially rich in iodine, essential for healthy thyroid functioning and for regulating metabolism. Sea vegetables are also a great source of vitamin K, folate (a B vitamin), other B vitamins, magnesium, calcium and iron. In addition, they contain lignans (phytonutrients that help fight cancer) and fucans (substances shown to inhibit the spread of some tumors).
Seaweeds are eaten raw or cooked. Prolonged cooking can heighten fishy aromas, so cook only lightly or add just before serving.
- Sea lettuce (also called “ulva”) is bright green and looks like leaf lettuce. Add finely chopped sea lettuce to risotto or tomato sauce when simmering. Or toast it in a hot oven to crisp, then sprinkle on salads and soups.
- Nori has a dark purple-black color that turns green when toasted and is by far the most popular seaweed available. Wrap it around rice and your favorite vegetables or fish for a quick sushi. Use as a condiment when shredded or crumbled.
- Dulse has a reddish-brown color and a soft, chewy texture. Use it in salads, vegetable sides, noodle dishes and soups. It adds a nice seafood flavor to chowder, minestrone or bouillabaisse.
- Kombu is a large and very dark-colored seaweed used to flavor soup stocks in Japan. Soak kombu in your own soup stocks, then remove, slice very thin, and add to soups, stews or beans.
- Wakame is similar to kombu and used to flavor soups such as miso, and in vinegar and cucumber salads. To use wakame in salad, first soak in cold water to soften, then finely chop. To use as a condiment on steamed brown rice, crumble it when dry.
- Store sea vegetables in airtight bags in a cool, dry place away from sunlight.
- Use dulse flakes, available in shaker bottles, as a substitute for table salt or as a garnish for soups or salads. It adds a rich, deep, umami flavor without overdosing you on sodium.
Photo credit: John Mowers/Unleashed Productions
Cucumber and Arame Salad
Makes 5 cups
- 2 cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
- 1/4 cup reconstituted Arame seaweed (about 1 tbs.)
- 1 cup tear drop or cherry tomatoes
- 1/2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds
- 2 tbs. minced parsley
- 1 tbs. chiffonade (fine shreds) mint
- 1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
- 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
- 1/2 tsp. sriracha chili sauce
- 1 tsp. honey
In a mixing bowl combine cucumbers, onions, drained seaweed, tomatoes and sesame seeds. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together parsley, mint, garlic, vinegar, sesame oil, sriracha chili sauce and honey. Pour dressing over cucumbers and toss gently. Per 1/2 cup serving: Calories 30; protein 1g; total fat 1g; saturated fat 0g; carbohydrates 6g; dietary fiber 1g; cholesterol 0mg; sodium 250mg
D.L.T.s (“Roasted Dulse, Lettuce and Tomato” Sandwiches)
Makes two sandwiches
- 1/4 cup dulse (open up pieces, don’t wash)
- 4 slices sprouted Ezekiel bread, toasted
- 2 tbs. mayonnaise or vegan mayonnaise
- 4 slices of tomato
- 2 large leaves of red leaf lettuce, washed and dried
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Place the dulse on baking sheet and bake for five minutes or until browned and crisp. The dulse will turn a lighter pink color. Place toast on cutting board spread with mayonnaise. Top two slices of bread with lettuce, tomatoes and dulse; cover with remaining pieces of bread. This is a great heart-healthy and mineral-rich substitute for bacon in BLT. The roasted dulse has a smoky flavor and will become crispy when toasted. Per serving: Calories 250; protein 6g; total fat 14g; saturated fat 2g; carbohydrates 27g; dietary fiber 3g; cholesterol 5mg; sodium 450mg
Gomasio-Nori Rice Condiment
- 2 tbs. finely chopped roasted nori (nori are the seaweed sheets used to roll sushi; buy roasted and cut into very small pieces)
- 2 tbs. toasted sesame seeds
- 1 tsp. sea salt
Combine in small bowl and place in shaker. Sprinkle on steamed brown rice or steamed grains. Per 1/4 teaspoon serving: Calories 0; protein 0; total fat 0; saturated fat 0; carbohydrates 0; dietary fiber 0; cholesterol 0; sodium 50 mg
Hijiki With Onions
Makes four servings
- 1 cup hijiki, soaked in apple juice
- 1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
- 1 onion, sliced into thin half moon
- 1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
- 2 to 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp. maple syrup
- 2 tbs. mirin wine
- 1/2 baked tofu, cut into strips
Drain and discard apple soaking juice, which softens and sweetens the hijiki. It will have tannic acid in it.
Heat the sesame oil in a large sauté pan. Add the onion and sauté for five minutes or until transparent. Add the carrots and cook another five minutes.
Squeeze the hijiki and add on top of onions and carrots. Mix together and sauté for two minutes.
Add water to cover hijiki. Bring to a boil, add soy sauce, syrup, mirin and tofu and simmer for 30 minutes until all liquid has evaporated. Serve with brown rice as a side dish.
Per 1/2 cup serving:
Calories 100; protein 6g; total fat 2g; saturated fat 0g; carbohydrates 12g; dietary fiber 1g; cholesterol 0mg; sodium 540mg