Simple sea vegetable recipes

Most of us have an unfortunate relationship with sea vegetables; we think of them as slimy bits of flotsam floating in miso soup, or the stuff that squishes between your toes at low tide. It hardly seems fitting food for any species without fins. But given their unique culinary applications and health benefits, it’s worth rethinking your relationship.

Sea vegetables are an exceptionally rich food source of iodine, a hard-to-get trace mineral that’s crucial for healthy thyroid function. It’s used to help balance female hormones, and in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat fibrocystic breast disease and uterine fibroids. And coming from the cool, serene depths of the ocean, they’re calming and grounding in a way no above-ground food could ever hope to be.

Handled well, sea vegetables have a firm texture, and their salty, earthy flavors are exceptionally compatible with beans, grains, winter squash, and hearty root vegetables. Try including them in your everyday repertoire, and experiment with several varieties; you’ll love what the tide brought in.

• Arame is thin and wiry, with a mildly sweet flavor and firm, chewy texture that holds up well in cooking. Its ebony hue makes a beautiful contrast against bright orange winter squash, sautéed leafy greens, or white beans; great for dishes that are heavy on presentation. To use: soak for 10 minutes in cool water to cover; drain, rinse and chop into smaller pieces, if desired.

Hijiki. Similar in appearance to arame, hijiki is decidedly bolder in flavor, with earthy, anise-like undertones. It stands up well to cooking and strong-flavored vegetables, and marries especially well with roasted roots, shiitake mushrooms, adzuki beans, and nut or seed oils. To use: soak for 10 minutes in cool water to cover; drain and rinse.

Nori. More delicate in flavor and fragile in texture than arame and hijiki, nori is sold in thin, greenish-black sheets generally used to make sushi. Try cutting it into thin strips as a garnish for hummus, creamy soups, roasted vegetables, or rice. Avoid cooking nori; it quickly disintegrates into a slimy, rubbery mess. To use: no soaking required; use whole sheets to roll sushi, or toast nori strips for one minute in a dry pan before using.

Wakame. Its sweet, almost nutty flavor and leafy texture makes wakame a good starting sea vegetable for newcomers. After soaking, it turns a bright emerald color that’s beautiful with red lentils, kale, roasted peppers or tomato soup, and it’s a natural in salads. Heat it gently, if at all; wakame gets slimy when cooked. To use: soak for 10 minutes until soft; drain and rinse.

Nori-Wrapped Glazed Salmon with Sesame Kale
Serves 4

The wrapped salmon fillets resemble large pieces of sushi for a fast meal that looks special. Serve with brown or wild rice and a starter salad of cucumbers, butter lettuce, and ginger-sesame salad dressing.

3 tablespoons mellow white miso
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon wasabi powder, or to taste
2 large cloves garlic, pressed
2 tablespoons plain sesame oil, divided
4 6-ounce salmon fillets, patted dry
2 sheets nori
1 large head Tuscan kale, stems removed, leaves chopped
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste

1. Preheat broiler to high. In a small bowl, whisk together miso, honey, and water. Whisk in wasabi and garlic.
2. Coat bottom of a small glass baking dish with 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Arrange salmon fillets in pan skin side down and spoon miso mixture over each.
3. Cut each sheet of nori in half, then fold each half lengthwise. Wrap nori strips around fillets, tucking ends under. Broil on middle rack for 7 minutes, basting twice. Cover pan loosely with foil, reduce heat to 400˚, and continue cooking until fish flakes easily with a fork, about 8 minutes more.
4. While salmon is cooking, in a large sauté pan, heat remaining sesame oil and sauté chopped kale leaves with red pepper flakes until bright green and just tender, 4–6 minutes. Season with salt.
5. Remove fish from oven and transfer fillets to serving plates. Arrange kale beside each fillet. Sprinkle sesame seeds over kale and serve immediately.

Hijiki-Chickpea Stew with Cauliflower and Greens
Serves 6

This quick and simple stew highlights firm black threads of hijiki (also called hiziki) against a creamy golden background. Substitute cooked lentils, white beans, or the more traditional adzuki beans for the chickpeas, and use any greens (chard or kale are good stand-ins for the spinach).

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cups cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
1 small head cauliflower, cored and cut into small florets
2 large cloves garlic, pressed
3 1/2 cups homemade or high-quality vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1/2 cup dried hijiki sea vegetable (about one small handful)
4 ounces baby spinach leaves
2 tablespoons red or white miso
Toasted sesame oil (optional)

1. Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat and sauté onion until golden, about 3–5 minutes. Add curry powder and cook for 30 seconds, stirring. Add beans, cauliflower, garlic, broth, and coconut milk; bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cook, covered, until cauliflower is just tender, about 7 minutes.
2. Scoop out about one-third of the stew, puree until smooth, and add back to pot (or use an immersion blender). Stir in spinach and hijiki and cook until hijiki is just tender but not soft, 3–6 minutes.
3. Ladle about 1/2 cup stew into a small bowl and stir in miso until completely dissolved. Stir back into pot. Serve hot, drizzled with toasted sesame oil, if desired.

Pan-Roasted Chicken with Arame, Broccoli, and Mushrooms
Serves 4

An ample side serving of vegetables makes this meal complete without a starch; or serve it with soba noodles, polenta, or quinoa. Use precut broccoli florets to shorten prep time, or sub frozen broccoli, adding it closer to the end of cooking time.

1/4 cup dried arame sea vegetable (about one small handful)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 3- to 4-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth, divided
5 teaspoons low-sodium tamari
3 large cloves garlic, pressed
6-7 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 small red onion
4 cups broccoli florets (about 1 large head)
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon mirin, or other sweet white wine
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1. Place arame in a small bowl and cover with warm water.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sear one side of chicken breasts until golden brown, 2 minutes. Flip and sear remaining side for 2 minutes. Add orange juice and 3/4 cup broth. Drizzle each breast with 1 teaspoon tamari. Add 2 pressed garlic cloves. Cover and cook on medium until juices run clear, about 15 minutes.
3. While chicken is cooking, remove and discard stems from shiitakes and slice caps, to yield about 3 cups. Halve onion and slice each half crosswise into half moons. Cut broccoli into small florets. Drain arame.
4. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a separate skillet and sauté onions and mushrooms until softened, about 3 minutes. Add remaining garlic, broccoli, and drained arame; stir to combine. Add remaining broth and tamari, 1 tablespoon mirin, and red pepper flakes. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until broccoli is tender, 6–8 minutes, adding a few tablespoons water if needed to prevent scorching.
5. When chicken is cooked, transfer to a plate and cover loosely with foil. Pour remaining 1/4 cup mirin into pan and cook over medium-high, scraping up bits from bottom of the pan, until thickened, about 2 minutes. To serve, place one chicken breast on each plate. Drizzle with sauce and arrange vegetables around chicken. Serve immediately.

Teriyaki Tempeh with Wakame and Burdock
Serves 3–4

Once soaked, wakame takes on a beautiful, deep green hue; it’s usually sold precut, but if you buy the long, whole pieces, break them into pieces before reconstituting, then chop them small after they’ve soaked. When preparing burdock, scrub thoroughly but don’t peel; like a potato, the peels contain a lot of the flavor. Place burdock slices in a bowl of water to keep them from turning brown . If you can’t find burdock, substitute parsnips. Thinly slicing tempeh allows it to cook faster and absorb more marinade without extra time.

1/4 cup dried wakame sea vegetable (about one large handful)
2 tablespoons plain sesame oil, divided
2 medium, slender, firm burdock roots, well scrubbed and thinly sliced
4 medium-small carrots, scrubbed and thinly sliced (if thick, halve lengthwise first)
1 large bunch scallions (about 6 ounces), thinly sliced
1 8-ounce package tempeh
1/3 cup low-sodium teriyaki sauce
3 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

1. Place wakame in a small bowl and cover with warm water; soak for 10 minutes, rinse and drain.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon sesame oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add burdock, carrots, and scallions; stir to coat. Cover and cook on medium-low heat until just tender, 4–5 minutes.
3. While vegetables cook, cut tempeh horizontally to make two thin halves. With both halves stacked on top of each other, cut into quarters, then cut each quarter once on the diagonal to make 16 total triangles. In a medium skillet, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil on medium-high heat. Add tempeh to skillet and cook for 3–4 minutes, until lightly browned on both sides.
4. Add tempeh to vegetables; sprinkle with teriyaki and mirin. Stir to coat. Cover, reduce heat, and cook on medium-low for 10 minutes, until vegetables are tender.
5. Drain wakame, squeezing out excess water. Add to pan. Stir gently to combine and warm through for 1 minute. Season with pepper and garnish with sesame seeds.