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Heidi's Seaweed Primer

I love a big bowl of kelp chowder this time of year. Creamy, thick and tasting of the sea it is so comforting, filling and economical, it has become a family tradition.
My history with seaweed began as a little girl (I mean little, like 2 or 3 years old). I grew up in a large East Coast city and really enjoyed any time someone would take me to the beach! I remember my brother and I bouncing up and down in the seat for the entire hour it took to get there. Jumping out of the car barefoot on to hot tar in the parking lot! The feel of the fresh salty air on my skin, the sun and running from the car to the waters edge where we found the perfect molted horseshoe crab shell to put on my head as helmet and going on a hunt for tide pools periwinkles, crabs and seaweed. I would always take a big handful of green or red seaweed it up and pop it in my mouth. Not seconds after and while I was enjoying the salty taste a well meaning adult would take their big sandy finger and scoop the seaweed out of my mouth, screaming at me "Don't eat that you'll get sick!!!" I know that because of this concerned effort on the part of the adults in my life my overall seaweed ingestion became a bit more risky. I could not imagine even at 2 or 3 years old that something so crispy, chewy, salty and yummy tasting, something that made your mouth taste and feel like the ocean, could possibly be bad for you? I ate a lot of seaweed that was never noticed by adults nor scooped out of my mouth! Later in life I learned the bay where I found and ate that particular seaweed was polluted. So sad. So far I am still healthy, thank goodness.
I am not recommending that you just go scooping up seaweed and eating it! There are laws about harvesting and some places you need a license. You must be aware there is actually a very serious risk of contamination from pollution, that may not have mattered to me as a 3 year old but certainly does now. So check locally and see what the laws are also find out what beaches are for public harvest and safe to eat from! There is also a very serious risk of injury, tides come in and you can be stranded, injured or worse. I have harvested seaweed. But now where I live there are so many places buy them and so many types to try, my harvesting has become the much warmer and safer effort of going to stores, asking questions and reading up on edible seaweeds. Libraries, the internet, so much good info and lots of recipes.
Grocery Store chains will usually at least carry sushi nori, you can also order just about any seaweed online...better and more fun to branch out, check out local ethnic markets, Korean and Japanese markets in my area have the best selection of seaweeds. I have also found Irish Moss in Caribbean markets and all kinds of agar in Asian markets and health food stores (although the latter is always pricier and I am about cost control).
So consider seaweed for the holidays, get past the "weed" part and try the very versatile veggie. From strong and stinky to mild and sweet. Also consider it for your health as it is a nutritious vegetable as well.

I have been an active consumer of seaweed for my entire adult life. I am by no means an expert on how to use it. But I am an admirer. The flavor range reminds me of cheese, ranging strong stinky seaweeds and mild sweet ones, they are salty and have great textures that lend themselves very well to drying, stir fries, pickles, salads and even baked goods and desserts.
Let me share some of the easiest and most common ways my family uses seaweed as a party food. These are my most portable recipes. They are festive, cost very little to make and have convinced the most stubborn of my friends that you could indeed put seaweed in your mouth and enjoy it!

Nori is so easy to find these days, it is the flat sheets used to roll sushi, very inexpensive to buy if you shop around and almost all grocery stores have it located in the Asian food section. If not ask them to order it.

Toasted Sesame Nori
Take the sheets of one package of Nori and lightly rub some toasted sesame oil on them then hold with heat proof tongs and toast over a burner set to med low waving the sheet of nori back and forth to assure even toasting. It only takes a minute or so and you can tell it is done when the sesame oil is fragrant and the sheets of nori appear puffy. Stack them on a plate sprinkling each layer with a mix of sea salt and crushed toasted sesame seeds. I can eat the whole package like this! If you like spicy add a little hot chile powder.

Korean Style California Rolls
A Wonderful Vegetarian Holiday Appetizer
And Christmas Party Potluck Platter

Take a large round platter then in a clockwise circle fill it with heaping piles of very thinly sliced vegetable sticks (a mandolin would be nice for this), make a thin egg pancake by beating 2 eggs pouring them into a large, greased skillet when cooked and cooled, roll it up like a jelly roll and cut very thin strips and pile with the veggies on the platter. The center of the platter should have a bowl to put Soy sauce mixed with pickled ginger and wasabi to taste. Then on another plate stack the toasted seaweed nori (recipe above) that has been cut into quarters to make square sheets. People take a pair of chop sticks and a square of nori and them put tiny amounts of each of the veggies and egg pancake, roll them up and put a spoon of the sauce inside and eat in one bite...well sometimes two or three!...great with dry Sake or ice cold Asian beer.

Finally, let's talk about the ultimate party appetizer made with nori...Sushi!!!!
I am not going into detail here there are so many recipes for vegetarian sushi that the only thing I can tell you is, you can put whatever you want inside a sushi roll, avocados, egg, tofu, pickles, veggies, it does not matter, the trick is making perfect rice! So plan to practice a few times ( plan on feeding the birds your mistakes, they love mushy over cooked or crunchy not enough water rice. Great sushi rice can not be put into an exact recipe but you can start here with a decent recipe and then work it until it is great for you. Perfect sushi rice should be individual grained, soft side firm and yet very sticky. It is a knack you will get with a little practice.
This is my basic recipe for good sushi rice

Start with three cups of good short grained Japanese style rice Rinse the rice in a strainer with cold water until water runs clear. Take a good heavy duty 2 quart pot with a very tight lid and put 3 1/3 cups water on to boil. When the water boils hard pour the rinsed rice into it bring back to the boil and while stirring well let it continue to boil for 2-3 minutes. The rice must covered then be taken from the heat while you turn the burner down to the lowest of simmers. Now if you have to high a simmer setting or are not sure put the covered pot of rice in a preheated 250 degree oven. It will work well. Simmer 15 min you must have a clean odor-free bowl (wood is best but glass is second) and hard spatula or paddle also made out of wood or heavy odor free plastic if possible. Put the rice in the bowl then add the sushi vinegar recipe as follows Sushi Vinegar: (heat ingredients to dissolve the sugar, cool) 5 tbsp. rice vinegar 2 tbsp. sugar 2 tsp. salt Or, for a sweeter flavor: 4 tbsp. rice vinegar 3 tbsp. sugar 2 tsp. salt Place cooked rice into a large bowl and sprinkle with sushi vinegar. Fan and gently fold the sushi vinegar into the rice until the mixture is cool.

I always picture the sea otters in Monterey California, hanging on to the kelp while eating the abalone. They were so cute! I love kelp! The texture is great and it is so good deep fried into chips. People will gobble them up at parties and never realize they are eating seaweed! Kelp is easier to find I get mine fresh seasonally in the spring or all year salted or dried. I find the best price in the Korean markets, but health food stores have it as well. It is a meaty thick firm crunchy chewy seaweed. I love it freshly washed raw in the spring with a mix of Korean bean paste and jalapeńos spread on it as a hot sauce.
A great winter soup that I mentioned at the beginning of this column is Kelp Chowder. If you miss clam chowder as a vegetarian this is the best replacement I can think of! Although I think it stands on its own and is so good I can not tell you! Try it with a nice crusty loaf of sour dough bread and fresh unsalted butter. Another one that goes very well with an ice cold beer!

Kelp Chowder
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups canned vegetable stock
2 cups heavy cream
2 russet baking potatoes, peeled and diced
1 small bag frozen corn
1 cup diced rehydrated kelp
Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 canned chipoltle pepper diced with some of the juice
Heat the butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and thyme and cook until the vegetables are good and soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Dust the vegetables with flour add the kelp and stir to coat everything well. Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Add the cream and the potatoes, bring to a boil and boil hard for about 7 minutes, until the potatoes break down (this will help to thicken the soup and give it a good texture). Add corn to the soup. Season with salt and pepper and simmer about 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the parsley and give it another little dash of olive oil. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve.

Another great easy party dish for kelp is deep fried kelp. Sweet, salty and crispy, it goes with tea or as a snack with cocktails. I will have a bowl of deep fried kelp chips out on a table just like I would have a bowl of potato chips. The kelp chip bowl is always empty!

Deep Fried Kelp Chips
You will need about ten piece of dried kelp, wipe with a damp, not wet cloth to clean cut the pieces in about 1 inch by 3 inch strips (whatever size you want your chips and cut with scissors, it is easier than a knife). Heat canola oil in a deep fryer or deep skillet over moderate heat. One at a time, put a very lightly dampened piece of kelp in the hot oil hold it down with the chop sticks. When the kelp becomes dark green bubbly and crispy remove from oil and drain on rack. While the kelp is still hot sprinkle on a few grains of sugar. The sugar will only stick to the kelp when it is still hot and just removed from the oil. It will stick when cold. Serve when cold, may be stored for a few days in an airtight container.

I have to limit myself by ending here with agar agar and hoping that you will do research and look for recipes that include seaweed into your life. Agar agar was my answer to gelatin, something I thought was cool but could not really stand the texture, taste or idea that of what it was made out of! So when I first found Agar I was thrilled. It is translucent, firm, has a jelly but not gelatinous texture and tastes much more neutral for carrying the flavors! You can just about jelly anything with agar, it can be extra firm for finger jellies to lightly jelled to be eaten with spoon. I find the best selection of agar at Southeast Asian markets, they even have "just add water" agar desserts that are very good. At least one time make your own from scratch with real agar it is more like a science project than cooking! With some very tasty results. Here is a wonderful Holiday Mango Pudding, wonderful to look at and taste sweet and rich.

Mango Pudding
˝ oz of agar (two sticks of it from an Asian Market
or the powdered stuff from the health food store)
1 cup Sugar
4 cups Warm water
1/4 cup Evaporated milk or coconut milk
8 cup Water
Marachino cherries, candied orange peel and mint leaves or other green garnish
2 Lg. Very ripe mangos peeled and finely diced
Place the two agar sticks into a 3 quart sauce pan with the 4 cups warm water for 30 minutes. After Soaking add the 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil over med. heat and cook until agar is completely dissolved. Remove saucepan from heat and add sugar, milk and chopped mango. Stir until sugar is totally dissolved. Pour into a 12x8 cake pan. Let stand until cool. Refrigerate until pudding is firm, about 15 min. Cut into diamond shapes. Garnish with maraschino cherries orange peel and a mint leaf. Serve chilled.

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See Also
Heidi's Vegan Marshmallows

Tempting Tempeh

Sizzlin' Spices

The Half @st Vegetarian