Oliver's BlogWednesday 24th June 2020
How To Cook Seaweed
Seaweeds have traditionally been eaten in many parts of the world, and are making a come back in Europe due to their unique flavours, colours and highly nutritious content. They are so concentrated in minerals that you only need to eat small amounts in your daily cooking to get a large proportion of your daily requirements of iron, calcium, iodine, magnesium and fibre, plus a range of vitamins including vitamin A, C and B12.
Here is a guide on how to introduce various kinds into your cooking on a regular basis. Macrobiotics has always promoted using seaweeds on a daily basis, and I have been cooking and eating them for 39 years - as well as being good for us they also add a lot of flavour to soups, stews, beans, salads and condiments, please try a few out yourself.
For hands on cooking classes using seaweeds check out our short courses.
Sea vegetables are normally bought dried in packets from whole food or health food shops, and in some supermarkets. Clearspring is a very reliable and high quality supplier. A little warning - they expand 2 or 3 times when you add water, so just use in relatively small amounts.
For me, kelp is the king of sea vegetables, adding a deep 'umami' flavour to many dishes ('umami' is savory and one of the five flavours of macrobiotics along with sweet, salty, sour and bitter). It is thick and leathery, and takes about an hour to cook if you want to eat it, but is often dipped into a soup or stew for 5 or 10 minutes and then removed to give lots of flavour and minerals to the dish.
Kelp, called kombu in Japanese, can be used along with shitake mushrooms to create a 'dashi' or soup stock. Simply cook a 10-15cm piece with 3 or 4 shitake in 500ml water for 10 minutes, then remove the kelp and slice the mushrooms up finely and return to the liquid to create a deep flavoured soup stock. Then add one or two vegetables, some tofu or other ingredients and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, add shoyu or tamari soy sauce to taste and cook another 2 minutes. You have a fabulous broth soup.
It's also good to put in one or two 10cm pieces of kelp when you are cooking beans - it adds flavour and also helps to make the beans more digestible and less likely to create wind or bloating.
Wakame is much thinner than kelp, so cooks in only 5 or 10 minutes, and is ideal in quicker cooking soups and dishes. Cut it into small pieces with sissors, or soak in a little water for 10 minutes to soften it and then slice up with a knife. Use the soaking water as well as the wakame in your cooking as much of the flavour will have gone into it.
This is the classic sea vegetable used to make miso soup, but you can also put it into any soup for added flavour. If you or your family feel uncomfortable about eating seaweeds, wakame is ideal. Cut it up small and it will practically disappear when you cook it in a thick soup. You can also add wakame to salads.
Nori comes in thin sheets that can be eaten as a snack (kids and even cats often love it). You can also use it creatively to make all kinds of sushi, onigiri and other dishes.
For a snack, lay one sheet flat and cut it with a sharp knife into strips. Alternatively, fold the nori sheet in half, then tear it along the fold. Then fold the half pieces and tear again until you get the size you want. You need to keep it in an airtight container as it will absorb moisture from the air very readily.
Nori is ideal for holding other foods together, and can be used to wrap rice, vegetables and all kinds of foods to make attractive and very tasty sushi.
Nori is ideal for sushi
Dulse (also known as red dulse, sea lettuce flakes, or creathnachi) is another thin, light sea vegetable that cooks quickly or can be simply soaked to soften it, and eaten raw in a salad. This is a common seaweed around British shores, and you can collect and dry it yourself. It can be used in a quick soup, cooked along with vegetables to add a beautiful deep pink colour, or soaked and mixed in with a salad.
Dulse is a good source of dietary fibre, as well as minerals and vitamins, and has been used in Britain for over 1,400 years with the best times for picking being between June and September.
Red dulse on the shore. Image credit: Cwmhiraeth
Hiziki is a traditional Japanese sea vegetable, with a strong 'minerally' taste. With its thick 'bootlaces' appearance, it takes a little longer to cook at around 30 minutes. This seaweed contains lots of minerals, and I know quite a few women who swear that eating it regularly helps keep their hair thick and healthy looking!
Hiziki is boiled and then dried after it has been harvested from rocks along the coast of Japan, Korea or China. It needs to then be soaked prior to use. Because of its strong taste, it is usually cooked along with vegetables such as carrots, and maybe with some lightly roasted seeds or chopped nuts mixed in. Some people just love the taste and can't eat enough of this sea vegetable - you can almost feel our body enjoying the nourishment coming from the concentrated minerals.
Hiziki cooked with carrots
Agar agar is extracted from a sea vegetable, and can be bought in flakes, sticks or as a powder. It has a unique effect of setting to make jellies, and is ideal for vegetarians or vegans.
Agar can be used to make savoury aspics, or sweet jellies for dessert, as it is virtually tasteless. The agar is cooked in water for about 10 minutes or until it has dissolved, and then other foods can be added. It is then poured into a mould and allowed to cool and set.
It makes amazing fruit jellies, which look fantastic and have a luscious texture. Children usually love them, and especially in summer they have a nice cooling effect. Agar can also be used to set other desserts like vegan cheesecake. Check out the berry jelly recipe here.
This sea vegetable also comes in strips, these are finer than hiziki so arame cooks more quickly in around 20 minutes. It is also usually cooked along with one or two vegetables, and goes very well with some toasted sesame seeds.
It can also be cooked on its own and then added to salads or other vegetable dishes. It's always best cook in just enough water to cover, and then cook away all the liquid at the end so all the goodness and flavour stay in the arame. If you throw away cooking water you are throwing away a lot of the taste and nutrients.
Arame and carrot salad
I hope this quick guide gives you a way into cooking this excellent food and source of rich nutrition. If you want to learn more about cooking with seaweed have a look at our short courses page.