OK, I’ll admit it: I LOVE SEA VEGETABLES.
If you’re one of those people who is tentative about new tastes, you might be cringing right around now. But if you have it in you to give them a try, I promise, these powerhouses of nutrition will not let you down.
Our stress-filled lives leach important micronutrients out of our bodies, and so people find themselves craving salty snacks, nuts, chocolate and other potentially mineral-rich foods in an effort to restock their depleted selves.
There are many varieties of sea vegetables and their unique qualities make them great additions to soups, salads, stews, stir-fries and rice dishes. In other words, if you’re not quite ready for a full-on sea vegetable salad, you may still be able to add them to your meals without causing too much upheaval.
Energetically, sea vegetables are enduring and yet with their ability to resist even the strongest of currents, they are the ultimate foods to consume when one needs to “go with the flow.”
Along with supplying trace minerals like selenium, zinc and copper, sea vegetables contain protein, chlorophyll, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iodine and tons of fibre. They are also rich in B vitamins as well as vitamins C, A and E in addition to rebalancing over-acid conditions. The brown algaes bind to heavy metals and help us rid our bodies of them.
When used in cooking, sea vegetables can be quite salty and coarse to the touch. Some, like arame or hijiki, should be soaked. To avoid losing vital nutrients, don’t use too much water. A great way to ensure you’re getting the maximum out of you sea vegetables is to use the soak water in salad dressings and in your cooking. Just remember: since most sea vegetables are naturally high in sodium (in the form of a vital but much-maligned mineral – not to be confused with table salt), make sure to taste your food before adding more salt.
Here’s a quick overview of some of the most popular varieties:
Dulse: This dark red sea vegetable adds a wonderful saltiness to salads. Because it tends to dissipate in water when dried, there is no need to soak it in advance. Dulse has a milder flavour than most other sea vegetables (everything is relative), it is high in fibre and especially packed with vitamins like B6 and B12, potassium and iron. It is also high in protein so a great way to supplement any plant-based diet.
Kombu: A form of wild kelp, all you need to do if you want to up the nutrition to any stock, stew, or pot of beans is add a piece of kombu. Many people then remove the kombu before eating but that is in no way necessary. It is especially high in calcium, magnesium, iron and iodine – great for people who are hypothyroid.
Hijiki, Arame: easy to confuse, both arame and hijiki are dark, almost black, and reedy. They soften with soaking and make great salads on their own. Also, try pairing with Asian-style dressings as well as sweeter vegetables like shredded carrots and beets for colour, taste balance and crunch. The main difference is that hijiki is saltier and arame tends to be on the sweeter side.
Wakame: my personal favorite. I snip it into pieces and throw it on pretty much anything from salads to vegetables to rice dishes. Wakame expands when wet or cooked and becomes quite slippery. It is the green thing you’ll often find in your miso soup. It is high in vitamins, and minerals like folate, phosphorus, calcium and magnesium.
Nori: the easiest sea vegetable to eat, nori is packed with protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Nori is what is used to make sushi rolls. It is sold in strips that you can wrap around or use as a receptacle for avocado, hummus, vegetable strips, leftovers – pretty much anything. Just be sure not to let it sit for too long as it quickly become limp and soggy.
Here’s a simple autumnal recipe to get your creative juices flowing:
Roots Salad with Sea Vegetables and Sesame Oil Vinaigrette
Prep time: less than 10 minutes with a food processor that includes a grater function.
Serves 2 as a side.
For the salad:
- 2 carrots
- 1 piece burdock
- 2 T sesame seeds (black or white)
- ¾ cup loosely packed arame
For the vinaigrette:
- 2 T toasted sesame oil
- 1 t ume plum vinegar
- finely grated fresh garlic and ginger, to taste
- turmeric – freshly grated or else use ¼ t dried powder
- 1 T fresh lemon juice (optional)
- salt to taste
Soak the arame in just enough water to cover until soft.
Grate the carrots and burdock. Combine in a large salad bowl.
Then rinse and pick apart the as you sprinkle the softened arame over the mixture.
Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the salad
For the vinaigrette, combine the oil, vinegar and (optional) lemon juice in a jar with a lid. Finely grate the garlic, ginger and turmeric root (or the powder) and add to the liquid as well as a pinch of salt (be careful not to add to much as the ume vinegar is very salty already). Cover well and shake vigorously.
Pour over the salad and mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning to suit your personal taste.
optional add-ins / replacements:
* apple cider vinegar will also do the trick although you might have to adjust the quantity of salt
* if you can’t find burdock, try other roots like beets or daikon or radishes; or simply add more carrots