I remember my first taste of vegetarian sushi in Boulder, Colorado, summer of 1978. There I was studying voice, dance, arts in education and theater at the Naropa Institute. New friends invited me for lunch. They served rice and vegetables wrapped in toasted nori with a spicy wasabi dip. As they spoke about their macrobiotic diet, I fell in love with my first taste of seaweed.
From that day on, I have enjoyed cooking and eating sea vegetables. First, I cooked with the Japanese seaweeds, and made miso soups with wakame, sushi with toasted nori sheets, Asian cabbage salads with arame and sweet sautés with hiziki, parsnips and carrots. Then I discovered California’s silky sea palm and ocean ribbons kombu, and Washington’s kelp pieces that taste like potato chips. Through the grape vine, I learned about Maine’s seaweeds: dulse, kelp, alaria, digitata kombu and laver, also known as wild nori. Like herbs, I love to stock them all. You never know when the mood will strike for a quick munch of dulse or a sweet onion soup with alaria and croutons.
Versatile, dependable, and easy to use year round, sea vegetables are tasty perennial herbs from the ocean. Sea vegetables are good sources of fiber, have some protein, and are loaded with vitamins and minerals: calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, sodium, iodine, manganese, copper, chromium, fluoride, zinc, Vitamin A, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, C and E. Diets rich in sea vegetables have been linked to preventing and healing cancer, heart disease, fighting radiation poisoning, and natural hair and skin care.
Like fruit, they are available dried and come in many shapes, textures and flavors. Arame, hiziki and sea palm are noodle like in texture and appearance. Think of arame like angel hair pasta, hiziki as spaghetti, and sea palm, the fettuccini.
You can cook leafy kelp, dulse, and various kombus with beans to aid their digestion. Long simmering kelp and dulse will dissolve in soups, stews, and thick rich flavored sauces.
Unlike salt, you can cook beans with a sea vegetable right from the start. Sea veggies have a tenderizing effect. Their natural sodium content makes sea vegetable dishes quite tasty without much added salt.
Photo of nori rolls on collard greens by Tracey Eller