[USA] Recently, a couple of seagreens cookbooks surfaced in the tidal wave that crosses my desk each month. I’ve also noticed seaweed in dispatches from local chefs, who are using it as a seasoning and to make side dishes for chalkboard specials.
“Definitely the new kale,” said Leon Buenviaje, CP Shucker’s executive chef, who frequently offers seaweed on his menus, including a wakame salad alongside seared tuna nachos.
Nutritionally, seagreens – or seaweed – are a powerhouse food. They contain few calories, but depending on the type, can provide fiber, healthy carbohydrates, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, vitamins A, B, C and E and minerals including calcium and potassium.
Yet, aside from a tangle of seaweed salad served alongside sushi, I’d never eaten seaweed, much less cooked with it. But after reading Barton Seaver’s new cookbook, “Superfood Seagreens,” I couldn’t resist a culinary adventure.
Seaver is an award-winning chef, former Washington, D.C., restaurateur and sustainable food expert. His third cookbook contains 75 seaweed recipes for everything from popcorn to lasagna to salad dressing and a cocktail.
Simple recipes for pesto and stir fry seemed a good way to start.
Shopping for seaweed in South Hampton Roads is pretty simple. Grand Mart International Foods in Norfolk offers dozens of choices of dried seaweeds, although the Asiatic labels make the experience somewhat mysterious. Was I buying wakame, the seagreen star of the sushi bar salad? Or was it sea lettuce, dulse, kelp or kombu?
Over in Virginia Beach at Whole Foods Market and Heritage Natural Market, racks of dried seaweeds in English language packaging makes shopping a little easier, if less exotic.
Most of the seaweed I found locally was dried, so it had to be rehydrated. That means soaking it for a few minutes in tepid water … and that’s where the slime comes in.
It’s a little alarming just how slimy rehydrated seaweed can be at first. The squares of kelp required to make a Kelp, Walnut and Ginger Pesto were as slippery as a fresh-caught fish, and so was the tangle of shredded kombu for a wok full of Stir-Fried Seagreens, although the texture subsided in the finished dishes.
I’m an okra lover, no matter which way it’s cooked, so the lingering viscosity didn’t offend me. But a couple of not-as-adventurous friends who stopped by for a sampling winced at the texture, although one liked the light, savory seafood flavor. I’m guessing that in a lot of home kitchens, seaweed will be a hard sell.
Better to start slowly, perhaps with a few crumbles of crunchy kombu on a salad or a sprinkling of dulse on a savory dish. And don’t dare call it seaweed.
Evangelical cookbook authors have renamed seaweed “seagreens,” hoping it will catch on with the masses. Perhaps it will. After all, Chilean sea bass was originally called Patagonian toothfish, and considered trash. Today, it’s so popular that it’s in danger of being overfished.
- Harvesting seaweed yourself is not recommended because seaweed can absorb pollutants in water. Always buy seagreens from a reliable source.
- Because of the iodine content in seaweed, experts recommend consuming only a little bit of seaweed each day, rather than large amounts.
Serves: 4 to 6
Stir-frying is a method more than a strict recipe. Here, a combination of the superfoods bok choy, carrots and seagreens brings great flavor, texture and color to the mix. Peanuts add crunch and a protein boost. The stir-fry technique can be used with any mixture of ingredients. The key is to start with an aromatic flavor base of ginger, garlic and scallion, cooked over extremely high heat in a pan that holds heat well in order to avoid steaming the ingredients.
- ¼ cup peanut oil
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1 bunch scallions, finely sliced
- 1 cup peanuts, crushed
- 1 pound bok choy or napa cabbage, sliced
- 3 carrots, grated
- 2 ounces dried kombu, rehydrated and sliced
- ¼ cup oyster sauce or hoisin sauce
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil over high heat. Add the ginger, garlic, scallions and peanuts, and cook for just a few seconds in the hot oil. Add the bok choy or cabbage and carrots and toss to thoroughly coat with hot oil; let sit until the bok choy begins to wilt and slightly color. Add the seagreens. Toss to combine and cook until heated through.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the oyster sauce or hoisin sauce, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar, then add to the cooking vegetables. Toss to combine.
Season with salt and serve.
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