Treasures From The Deep: everyday cooking with sea vegetables

If you think of sea vegetables as slimy bits of flotsam floating in miso soup, or the stuff that squishes between your toes at low tide, let’s change your mind.

Sea vegetables are an exceptionally rich food source of iodine, a hard-to-get trace mineral that’s crucial for healthy thyroid function. They’re also used to 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 earthly 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-Vegetable Strudel with Roasted Red Pepper and Sun-dried Tomato Sauce
Serves 4 to 6

1/4 cup arame

1/4 cup olive oil

1 small leek, washed well and chopped small

2 small carrots, diced

1 cup broccoli florets, chopped small

1 cup cauliflower florets, chopped small

1/2 pound portobello mushrooms, diced

4 medium garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup feta cheese (optional)

Dash white pepper

1/4 cup silken tofu

1 cup roasted red peppers, drained

7 sun-dried tomatoes

1 tablespoon sherry or red wine vinegar

12 frozen phyllo pastry sheets, thawed

Fresh rosemary sprigs for garnish, if desired

Preheat oven to 350°F.

1. In a small bowl, combine arame and cool water to cover; soak for 15 minutes, until soft.

2. While arame is soaking, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large saute pan or skillet. Cook leeks, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and mushrooms until just tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and feta cheese, if desired, and cook for 1 minute longer. Stir in arame; season with white pepper and sea salt. Spread cooked vegetable mixture on a plate; refrigerate until completely cooled, about 10 minutes.

3. While mixture cools, in a blender or small food processor, combine tofu, red peppers, tomatoes and sherry vinegar; puree until very smooth, adding 1 or 2 tablespoons of water if needed to thin.

4. To assemble strudel: spread 2 sheets of phyllo dough on a clean work surface and brush lightly with olive oil. Carefully stack 2 more sheets on top, and brush lightly with olive oil. Repeat with 2 more sheets. Starting from one short side, spread half of the cooled filling onto the phyllo stack, leaving a 1 1/2 inch border on each long side and covering about 1/3 of the phyllo. Fold long edges of phyllo over the filling, then starting at the short edge, roll into a fat log, enclosing filling completely.  Repeat with remaining phyllo leaves and filling.

5. Lightly oil a large baking sheet. Place strudels on baking sheet and bake at 350°F for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden-brown.

6. While strudel is baking, gently warm red pepper sauce. Removed cooked strudel from oven, and let stand for 2 to 3 minutes before cutting. To serve, make a puddle of sauce on each serving plate. Cut each strudel into halves or thirds, and place one piece of strudel onto each serving plate in red pepper sauce. Garnish with rosemary, if desired, and serve immediately.


Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Roots with Nori Strips
Serves 4 to 6

1 medium sweet potato

3 small parsnips

1/2 pound Brussels sprouts

2 small red onions

1/2 pound baby carrots

10 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 sheets nori

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon sesame seeds or black sesame seeds

Black or white sesame seeds for garnish

1. Preheat to 400°F.  Lightly oil a large, heavy baking sheet or roasting pan.

2. Scrub sweet potatoes and parsnips, and chop into 1-inch chunks. Cut lower stems from Brussels sprouts, discard outer leaves, and cut sprouts in half. Peel onions and cut into eighths. Combine all vegetables, including baby carrots and garlic, in a large bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil, and mix well with hands. Transfer to baking sheet and roast at 400°F for 35 to 45 minutes, or until vegetables are tender, stirring halfway through.

3. While vegetables are roasting,  tear one nori sheet in half lengthwise, then tear each half in half again, to make four equal segments. Stack segments on top of each other and cut crosswise into thin strips. Repeat with second sheet of nori.

4. Remove cooked vegetables from oven. Sprinkle with sesame oil, sesame seeds and nori strips. Mix with a large spoon. To serve, transfer hot vegetables to a large serving bowl, sprinkle with additional sesame seeds, if desired, and serve immediately.


Creamy Lima Bean, Wakame and Kale Stew
Serves 4 to 6

1/4 cup wakame

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small yellow onion, diced

1 celery rib, diced

2 medium carrots, diced

1 15-ounce can white beans, rinse and drained

1 1/2 cups frozen and thawed baby lima beans

6 cups vegetable stock or broth

1 bunch kale

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon oregano

Dash cayenne

1. In a small bowl, combine wakame and cool water to cover, and soak for 15 minutes. Drain, rinse, and squeeze out excess water. Set aside.

2. While wakame is soaking, in a large, heavy saucepan, heat olive oil and cook onion, celery and carrots on medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, or until tender. Add white beans, lima beans and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

3. While soup is cooking, remove center ribs from kale and discard. Chop leaves small.

4. Using an immersion blender or food processor, puree half of the soup. Return pureed soup to pot. Add kale and cook for 5 minutes longer, until kale is tender. Add wakame, nutmeg, oregano and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper, if desired, and serve hot.


Wild Rice, Tempeh, Shiitake and Hijiki Salad with Goji Berries and Pecans
Serves 4

1/2 cup uncooked wild rice, washed and drained

1/4 cup hijiki

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth or water

1 tablespoon light sesame oil

3 cups sliced shiitake mushrooms

2 medium shallots, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)

1 package tempeh, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 tablespoons tamari or low-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons grated ginger

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons dried goji berries (or substitute dried cranberries)

1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans

Fresh parsley for garnish

1. In a small bowl, combine hijiki and cool water to cover, and soak for 15 minutes. Drain, rinse, and squeeze out excess water. Set aside.

2. In a large, heavy saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth or water to a boil. Add wild rice, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 40 to 45 minutes, or until tender. Remove lid and simmer, uncovered, for five additional minutes. Drain any excess liquid.

3. While rice is cooking, heat oil in a large, heavy skillet; cook mushrooms and scallions over medium heat until mushrooms are just soft, about 3 minutes. Add tempeh, tamari and ginger, and stir to mix well. Cook, covered, for7 minutes, stirring frequently, and adding a tablespoon of water if needed to prevent sticking.  Stir in toasted sesame oil, arame, goji berries or cranberries.

4. In a large bowl, combine wild rice and tempeh mixture; adjust seasonings, adding more ginger, toasted sesame oil and/or tamari, if desired. Stir in pecans. Transfer to a large, decorative bowl, garnish with minced or whole parsley sprigs, and serve warm or chilled.


Seaweed Cheat Sheet

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 5 minutes until soft; drain and rinse.