Cooking with Sea Vegetables

Today’s post is from Sarah Redmond, our new resident seaweed expert, who recently attended a “Cooking with Sea Vegetables” event at Five Seasons Cooking School, a small demonstration kitchen set up in the home of Lisa Silverman, a whole foods chef, cooking teacher, and wellness coach. Silverman is a graduate of the Kushi Institute, a retreat in the Berkshires devoted to teaching and encouraging the macrobiotic lifestyle, although Silverman’s cooking classes offer support and education for anyone interested in healthier cooking and eating.

Here is Sarah’s report:

“All of the participants were familiar with the health benefits of eating sea vegetables, but wanted to learn how to better incorporate them into their diets. Traditionally, sea vegetables (seaweeds) are sold dried, flaked, or powdered, and are most commonly added to soups or stews. These can be vegetables in their own right, however, with a quick and easy reconstitution of the dried blades for a few minutes in clean water. The blades are soon restored to their former state, and can be cut, chopped, or sliced into any dish. Maine Seaweed, a wild-harvest company in Downeast Maine, donated the dried seaweed we used tonight. We also tried the new, crunchy kelp slaw from Ocean Approved, a wild-harvest and local sea farm company from Portland. Ocean Approved’s line of kelp products offers a new way to experience sea vegetables; fresh-cooked and frozen, they are ready-to-eat (delicious right from the bag or added to any dish) and easy to prepare (just thaw).

The menu was extensive, and we were treated to a running description of the energetics, balance, and yin and yang of food as seaweed was soaked, vegetables were chopped and sautéed, oil was heated, and soup was simmered. Sweet and sour red cabbage with dulse (a red seaweed) was a warm, deep red dish of sweet apples, dulse, sesame oil, and Umeboshi vinegar. A cucumber wakame salad made with boiled alaria (a local kelp), sliced cucumbers, sesame oil, brown rice syrup, vinegar, and shoyu, was a satisfying yet light dish, the sesame flavors bringing out the richness of the seaweed against the cool cucumbers. A little dark sesame oil also played a role in the Asian cole slaw, made with the slaw-cut kelp, purple and green cabbage, carrots, cilantro, veganaise, vinegar, and rice syrup. We also had miso soup, and learned the basic five-part structure: Miso (a fermented food that is improved by the aging process—look for miso that has been aged for 3 years), water, a land vegetable (carrots, kale, mushroom, cabbage, etc.), a sea vegetable (traditionally alaria, but any of our local sea vegetables would do), and a fresh garnish (cilantro, scallions, chives). As delicious as the soup and other dishes were, everyone really loved the seaweed “snack” foods (we can’t help it!), the kelp chips and the seaweed nut crunch bars made with nori (a red seaweed). Kelp chips are like potato chips, dried pieces of kelp dropped into frying oil for a short few seconds, where they will ‘pop’ and crisp up to be shiny, salty, crunchy, amazing sea-chips. The seaweed bars were sweet and crunchy, nutty and addicting. Made with corn oil, maple syrup, sliced almonds, nori, and sesame seeds, they were baked into a sea-brittle crunch bar. After we had sampled all of the great food prepared for us, we were given little sample bags of alaria, dulse, and kelp to take home to try it on our own.

Before tonight’s event, I thought I was doing a pretty good job feeding myself. If I had to grade myself, I would have given me a B. But in a macrobiotic world, I would definitely score a failing grade. I have a four-food-groups, meat-and-potato type of mentality built into my habits. Incorporating sea vegetables into our daily diets is important for everyone, for they are the ‘first vegetable,’ carrying all of the minerals and nutrients of the sea into our blood, remedying deficiencies, restoring balance, and removing toxins, heavy metals, and radioactive elements. Along with whole grains, lots of fresh land vegetables, pickled foods, beans, and occasional seeds, nuts, fruits, and meats, sea vegetables should become part of a more thoughtful, local, nourishing, and satisfying lifestyle.”