you've probably been told to eat your veggies, but what about sea veggies? it might come as a surprise, but sea vegetables are among the most nutrient-dense plants on earth. popular in macrobiotic diets, ocean plants support thyroid function, detoxification, and hormone balance.
seaweed has many of the minerals we need in our daily diets, including iodine, sodium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, copper and selenium. it's also incredibly rich in a variety of vitamins, including B, C, D, E and K. sea vegetables are some of the best plant-based sources of calcium, as well as good sources of the antioxidant beta-carotene and some seaweeds, (such as wakame), are also a good source of protein.
many people associate seaweed as a foreign idea, fishy and a little slimy. but cooked properly, they can be a really delicious addition to your meals! the key to learning to love sea vegetables is preparing them properly. most sea vegetables are best if you pour boiling water over them and let them soak for 10 minutes before use. for the more chewy types, such as hijiki, it's best to then drain and simmer the sea vegetable in water—how long depends both on the specific variety of seaweed being used and the dish it's intended for. for example, if you prefer the delicate flavor and texture of the seaweed itself not be overpowered by ocean flavors that may have intensified during drying, you can soak or boil them to remove the briny flavor.
sea veggie savvy
here's a list of the most popular and commonly available sea veggies and how you can incorporate them in your meals.
• agar-agar—derived from a very mild-flavored red seaweed that is processed into translucent flakes or a powder and is then used as a vegetarian gelatin or binding agent. agar-agar is also sometimes found in bars that must be crushed before being used. two tablespoons of agar-agar will firmly gel one cup of liquid. To use agar-agar, warm it in the liquid, stirring constantly until it dissolves, then simmer for about 10 minutes.
• arame—derived from a large-leaved, brown seaweed that is parboiled, then shredded and dried. the resulting thin, black strips are mild in flavor and delicate in texture. It should be rinsed well, then may be used in salads, stir-fries, casseroles or soups immediately, or after very quickly stir-frying or simmering.
• dulse—a thin, delicate, leafy sea vegetable with a beautiful purple-red color. It can be eaten dried as a salty snack or added to soups and stews for its gentle salty brine flavor and thickening quality. it's also available powdered, to be used as a salty condiment. dulse is the most commonly eaten sea vegetable in europe and is often the first sea vegetable many people try (i just bought some this week!).
• hijiki—similar to arame, but thicker, chewier, and slightly stronger in flavor. it should be rinsed well, then soaked for about 20 minutes before cooking lightly. because of its thick texture and pronounced flavor, hijiki should be used prudently, in stir-fries, casseroles and salads.
• kelp—usually powdered and may be used as a salt substitute that is rich in trace minerals.
• kombu—found in wide, stiff strips measuring from 3-10 inches in length. a strip of kombu serves well as a flavoring, which also adds a gelatinous quality to soups, stocks, stews, and when cooking beans. some find that cooking beans with kombu makes them more digestible. the kombu itself is seldom eaten, because it is quite tough.
• nori—sheets of nori are most commonly used as the wrapping for sushi rolls. nori is also sold as a snack, in prepackaged 1-3 inch spiced strips. the dried sheets improve in flavor when lightly toasted. to toast, hold a sheet a few inches above a flame and allow it to shrink slightly, then toast on the other side. use nori crumbled over rice, in salads or in sandwiches.
• wakame—this versatile sea vegetable is tender and delicate. its leaves may be added for flavor and texture to soups, salads or stir-fries. first rinse, then soak for several minutes, and cook for about 10 minutes. wakame is the familiar leafy sea vegetable found in many miso soup recipes.
finding sea vegetables
finding sea veggies is easier than you might think. health food stores always carry high-quality sea vegetables are you can find commercially harvested seaweeds in most asian markets. look for sea vegetables that are grown wild and harvested from the ocean.