Superfood focus: Add algae to your diet and sea the difference

[Global] Don’t be put off by the “weed” component of the word seaweed – consuming seawater plants is actually a very sensible and healthy thing to do.

It’s no exaggeration to say there are thousands of types of seaweed growing in rock pools, clinging to coral reefs and bobbing along seashores all over the world. While not all of them taste particularly appealing, the consensus among experts is that each variety is safe for human consumption, making seaweed foraging a much less hazardous occupation than, say, mushroom hunting, where picking and eating the wrong variety can be fatal.

In the UAE, seaweed is most commonly found in harvested, dried and packaged form. Probably most familiar is nori, the paper-thin sheets of seaweed used to make sushi – think maki, temaki and California rolls.

Deep-green wakame, meanwhile, is often added to miso soup and is at its best when rehydrated. After being soaked in liquid it develops a striking emerald sheen, a pleasingly tender, slightly slippery texture, and a mild, sweet taste.
Charcoal-grey kombu (dried kelp) tends to be sold in unwieldy strips and, thanks to its deep, savoury flavour, is a key ingredient of dashi, the all-­important broth base used in numerous Japanese dishes.

Health benefits

Where to start? Sea vegetables are heroes in the nutrition department. To begin with, they provide concentrated doses of iron, calcium and essential amino acids, and are great sources of antioxidants. In addition, seaweed is one of the best known food sources of iodine, a mineral needed for the thyroid to function efficiently and regulate metabolism levels and body temperature.
Among a raft of other health-giving properties, seaweed also delivers protein and soluble fibre, as well as containing folic acid and vitamins A and B12, which we need to produce red blood cells.

How to eat

Seaweed delivers a full-on savoury flavour hit that sends chefs into outbursts of delight.

Reif Othman, a Japanese food expert and chef patron at Play Restaurant and Lounge in Dubai, has been using seaweed in his dishes for many years. He says that from a cook’s perspective one of the biggest benefits of the ingredient, is that it ­provides umami (the elusive fifth taste, after sweet, sour, bitter and salt).
“The type of seaweed I use really depends on what I want to achieve at the end,” he says. “­Depending on the variety, it’s great for flavouring butter, making crispy seaweed paste, adding to tarts and salads, and when preparing stock.”

Just like salt, seaweed has the ability to accentuate and draw out the flavour of other ingredients, which means it can also be used as a seasoning. To give it a go, toast sheets of kombu or nori and crumble into pieces, ready to sprinkle over dishes just before serving.

As well as being used to prepare homemade sushi rolls, crispy baked nori makes a healthy and delicious alternative to crisps.

Kombu, meanwhile, is known for its tenderising capabilities, and when added to the cooking water, is particularly efficient at making green beans more digestible. It can also be simmered until soft, cut into strips and served as an alternative to noodles, added to broths or stirred through rice.

If you want to try preparing your first seaweed-based dish from scratch, a wakame salad is a great entry option. Soak 35 grams of wakame in warm ­water for five minutes, until tender. Drain well, leave to dry and slice into strips.

Whisk together two ­tablespoons of rice vinegar, two tablespoons of low-sodium soy sauce, one tablespoon of sesame oil, two teaspoons of caster sugar and 20g of finely chopped pickled ginger from a jar.

In a bowl, mix the wakame with half of a thinly sliced cucumber and three thinly sliced breakfast radishes. Pour the dressing over the vegetables, stir well and ­garnish with toasted sesame seeds.

Tips

Seaweed is, as you might ­expect, very salty.

With that in mind, resist the urge to add salt to the water when cooking or rehydrating dried seaweed.

Similarly, when seaweed forms the main component of a dish, taste before adding additional seasoning.

If you’re serving seaweed with soy sauce (as in the salad recipe), choose a low-sodium ­option.

 

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