Until recently, the only sea vegetable most people were familiar with was nori. Used to create sushi rolls, nori is now being used not only for maki rolls but also to flavour soups, salads and even as crisps. However, it’s not the only sea vegetable that’s enjoying the spotlight, the others include arame, wakame, kelp, kombu, hijiki, dulse and agar. And this falls in line with the BBC Good Food list (released at the start of the year) that predicted that the use of sea vegetables would catch on across the globe. Chef Jerry Thomas from Lima seconds this and shares, “Sea vegetables have been in use for the last three years, but acceptance among patrons has been more since late last year! And I feel it’s a trend that’s here to stay.” However, there are challenges both while working with sea vegetables and also making it palatable for people back home. In India, while a little bit of it in the dishes is appreciated, by and large the vegetarian audience still sees seaweed and sea vegetables as a non-vegetarian item, due to its ‘fishy’ taste,” informs chef Paul Kinny, culinary director Bellona Hospitality.
Why it’s good for you
The Japanese have been using sea vegetables in their cuisine for years now. They are nature’s vitamin and mineral supplements; high in vitamin K, B, iodine, calcium, magnesium and also naturally alkaline. Chef Paul adds, “I have cooked with both wakame and kelp. Both naturally rich in umami, wakame, one of the only natural, non-animal sources of vitamin B12, has a mild, sweet flavour that adds a punch to my Miso Milk in Shizusan. It is also a great addition to stir-fries and salads. Since, wakame is usually available in its dried form, we need to soak it in lukewarm water for 10 minutes till it swells up and turns into a glossy green. My trick is to throw the swollen wakame briefly into boiling water and rinse immediately with cold water to intensify its colour. High in Vitamin A, B, E, D & K, Kelp is primarily known for its iodine content. Kelp in its powdered form makes for a great seasoning to have on the table and is a perfect replacement for table salt. Its natural iodine normalises thyroid related disorders like obesity and lymph system congestion. Due to their high iodine content, various forms of seaweed should be consumed in limit.”
Seaweeds are the new condiments
Delhi-based Nishant Choubey, corporate chef, The Roseate, says he has worked with sea vegetables like nori, wakame, hijiki, kombu and sea grapes. He advises, “Never soak the sea vegetables in hot water. Also, the water becomes very nutritious and flavourful from soaking the vegetables, so never throw it away. Hijiki only needs soaking and no cooking. However, kombu should be cooked for at least 20 minutes. Nori, on the other hand, must be toasted to get best results.” Corporate Chef Vineet Manocha, Fresc Co, who has worked with kelp, wakami, agar agar (used as a substitute of gelatin), spirulina, adds, “One has to be very careful while using sea vegetables since it has an overpowering smell. The fact that the sea vegetables are available in dehydrated form, it is imperative to rehydrate them before cooking. There are specific sea vegetables, which have a distinct odour and one must have an acquired palate. While all these vegetables are super foods, they are here to stay and are gradually gaining popularity.”