These ocean plants are swimming with flavor and nutrients.
While we might not blink while eating sushi rolls neatly bundled in a nori seaweed wrapper, the idea of eating vegetables from the ocean can strike us as strange. Yet sea vegetables are rich in nutrients and health benefits, as well as in savory flavor. From arame to wakame, there are over 11,500 different types of sea vegetables, also called seaweed or sea algae.
The unique taste of sea vegetables falls into a category of flavors called umami, a Japanese word for the savory fifth taste (along with sweet, sour, bitter and salty). Translated, it means “delicious.” Umami foods contain high levels of naturally occurring glutamate, an amino acid found in protein-containing foods that’s vital for healthy metabolism and brain function. Glutamate helps produce the savory flavor in foods.
Sea vegetables contain valuable minerals and micronutrients, including iodine, calcium, iron, potassium and zinc. Their nutritional benefits include anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anticoagulant and antiviral properties. Alginic acid—a polysaccharide prevalent in kombu, arame, hiziki and wakame—binds with heavy metals found in the intestines and eliminates toxins from the body. Research shows that a diet that includes sea vegetables may play a role in lowering the risk of estrogen-related cancers, including breast cancer.
Many sea vegetables are available in the Asian or international sections of grocery stores or online.
Gluten-Free Cucumber Seaweed Salad
SERVES 6 TO 8
This salad is fast and easy. Look for reduced-sodium gluten-free soy sauce or gluten-free tamari. Refrigerate any leftovers.
3 tablespoons dried wakame or arame
2 teaspoons gluten-free soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon sesame oil (regular or toasted)
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 large cucumber, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sesame seeds, optional
1. Rehydrate wakame or arame by covering with warm water. Let sit 5 minutes, drain and discard soaking water.
2. Whisk together gluten-free tamari, sesame oil and rice vinegar in a medium bowl. Add cucumber and rehydrated seaweed. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired.
Each serving contains 22 calories, 2g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 101mg sodium, 1g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 1g sugars, 0g protein, 0 Est GL.
Gluten-Free Asian Sautéed Vegetable Medley
SERVES 4 TO 6
For a fast vegetarian entrée, stir-fry some seasonal vegetables along with mild-flavored arame seaweed. Serve over brown rice or a rice and quinoa blend. Top with sunflower seeds for a contrasting crunch.
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon garlic, minced (about 2 cloves)
½ cup chopped yellow onion
½ cup arame, soaked 5 minutes and strained
1 red or orange bell pepper, sliced into strips
1 bunch broccoli, cut into bite-size florets
1 cup water
1 teaspoon gluten-free soy sauce or tamari
½ cup sunflower seeds, for garnish
1. In a large skillet, heat sesame oil over medium heat and sauté garlic and onion 2 to 3 minutes; do not let the garlic brown. Add arame, red pepper, broccoli and water.
2. Cover skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 5 minutes. Add gluten-free soy sauce, cover and simmer another 2 minutes.
3. Remove cover, turn heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until almost all cooking liquid has evaporated and broccoli is crisp-tender.
4. Serve over rice and sprinkle with sunflower seeds.
Each serving contains 125 calories, 9g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 137mg sodium, 10g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 3g sugars, 5g protein, 3 Est GL.
Faux Tuna Salad
SERVES 6 TO 8
Ground kelp (or dulse flakes) provides a seafood flavor without the fish. This recipe is easy to vary according to your taste. Serve it in an avocado half, cantaloupe half or bib lettuce cups. For best results, the almonds should not be replaced in this recipe.
2 cups raw, unsalted almonds or slivered almonds, preferably blanched
1 cup raw, unsalted sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or rice vinegar
1 teaspoon dried dill or 1 table- spoon fresh dill
½ teaspoon ground kelp granules or 1 teaspoon dulse flakes
1 teaspoon lemon zest
¼ cup olive oil or grape seed oil
¼ cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup grated or finely chopped carrots
2 tablespoons chopped chives or green onions, optional
¼ cup minced dill pickles, optional
¼ cup minced green or black olives, optional
-Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Place almonds and sunflower seeds in a large glass bowl and cover with water. (Make sure the bowl can accommodate 2 inches over the nuts and seeds, as they expand while soaking.) Soak nuts and seeds 6 hours or overnight. Do not refrigerate. Drain and discard water.
2. Place soaked nuts or seeds in a food processor bowl with the knife blade and pulse until mixture is crumbly but not pureed.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together lemon juice, dill, kelp and lemon zest. Drizzle oil into bowl while whisking.
4. Toss chopped nuts and seeds, celery, carrots and optional ingredients (if using) into bowl.
5. Mix to combine. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Each serving contains 321 calories, 29g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 7g sodium, 10g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 1g sugars, 9g protein, 0 Est GL.
SERVES 4 TO 6
Beans are a low-glycemic, fiber-rich source of protein. When beans are cooked with kombu, this sea vegetable has the amazing distinction of making the beans softer and more digestible. Add a bay leaf for flavor and as an additional digestive aid. This recipe makes 2 to 3 cups of cooked beans.
1 cup dried beans
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, optional
1 (4-inch) stick kombu
1 bay leaf, optional
1. Rinse beans and pick over them carefully to remove any stones and impurities.
2. Cover the beans with water and cover the container with a lid. (The container should be large enough to hold at least double the amount of dried beans to allow room for expansion.) Add lemon juice to soaking water, if desired. Soak beans 6 to 8 hours or overnight.
3. Drain and rinse beans before cooking. Cover beans with fresh water by 2 inches. Add kombu and bay leaf, if using. If cooking in a regular pot, bring beans to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for the time recommended on the package. If cooking in a pressure cooker, follow machine instructions. Beans are done when they are soft.
TIP Don’t add salt until after the beans have cooked, as it will toughen them. Don’t add baking soda to the cooking water, as it will decrease vitamin B content.
Chicken or Turkey Broth with Kombu
MAKES 3 QUARTS
Including kombu in broth adds nutrients and savory flavor. Mineral-rich chicken or turkey broth is the base for many soups, sauces and gravy. It’s also beneficial for steaming vegetables, cooking gluten-free grains, like rice and quinoa, and preparing gluten-free pasta. Broth can be made from raw or cooked bones, although more minerals are available from raw bones.
3-3½ pounds chicken or turkey pieces, mostly backs and wings (do not use chicken liver)
2 yellow or white onions, quartered, with outer skin left on
1 leek, including green part, cut in quarters
6 carrots, unpeeled, cut into large chunks
6 celery stalks, cut into chunks
2 bay leaves
-Handful of fresh parsley sprigs and/or fresh thyme sprigs
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons vinegar (not malt vinegar) or fresh lemon juice
3-4 dried juniper berries, optional
1 (4-inch) kombu stick
1. Place chicken pieces, onions, leek, carrots and celery in a large stockpot over medium heat. Pour enough cold water to cover meat pieces, at least 12 cups. Add bay leaves, parsley/thyme, peppercorns, vinegar and juniper berries. Slowly bring mixture to a simmer. As the broth cooks, skim off any impurities that rise to the surface.
2. Reduce heat to low. Add kombu and gently simmer 3 to 4 hours.
3. Remove chicken pieces. Strain broth through a fine sieve into another container and discard vegetable solids. If not using broth immediately, place the container in a sink full of ice water and stir to cool. When cool, cover container and refrigerate. Skim fat from surface before using. (Freeze some broth in ice cube trays for easy use later.
Gluten-Free Miso Soup with Wakame
Miso is a fermented food that’s usually been off limits to those avoiding gluten and/or soy, because many traditional miso pastes are made from soybeans and barley. Happily, gluten-free and soy-free miso pastes are now available, made from rice, buckwheat, millet and most recently, chickpeas. Look for miso paste in tubs in the refrigerated section of grocery stores. Check labels carefully.
Miso soup is a common Japanese breakfast dish that can be enjoyed any time of day. It is made from chicken broth, vegetable broth or dashi (Japanese dried fish and seaweed broth). Common add-ins are seaweed, tofu and salmon.
2 cups gluten-free chicken broth, vegetable broth or dashi broth, preferably homemade
2 tablespoons gluten-free miso paste
4 ounces cooked or smoked salmon, flaked, optional
2 teaspoons dried wakame
2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
1. Bring broth to a boil in a large pot.
2. Place miso paste in a small bowl and add a few spoonfuls of hot broth. Whisk until miso has softened and dissolved.
3. Pour miso blend back into broth in pot. Turn heat to medium-low and add salmon, if using. Simmer lightly until salmon has warmed.
4. Add wakame and stir until softened. Add scallions and serve.
Special-diet food coach and cooking instructor Sueson Vess is author of Special Eats (specialeats.com).