My daughter’s eyes flare open like she's seen a ghost.
"It's okay honey, it's me mom."
I quickly pull the rubber octopus from my shoulders and smooth down the teased towering green hairdo. She looks relieved. As a wee tot she had a frightening encounter with Disney's version of Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid.
"Sorry, honey - just getting in the spirit..."
"Aren't you taking this whole seaweed thing a bit far?" questions my husband.
I'm just enthusiastic about seaweed: cooking it, collecting it, and sharing it. Seaweed adds interesting flavor and texture to food. It has great nutritional value, and what you can't eat is great in a bath or as fodder for the garden.
Seaweed is heralded as a super food today, but ancient people knew of its great value. It was traded and passed along to inland cousins as well. Modern people have fallen away from the extensive use our coastal ancestors once put seaweed to as a protein staple, medicine, and fertilizer for row crops. Today, commercial processers turn seaweed into industrial food binders that make ice cream smooth, cosmetics creamy, and turn it into synthetic fertilizers.
Fresh dried seaweed can be bought in many specialty shops for use with sushi or as savory snacks, but there is nothing like raw, wild seaweed if you can get it. See “A Seaweed Story: Harvesting Sea Vegetables” for how to gather your own. If you're not a hunter-gatherer, or live too far inland, seaweed can be found in natural food markets or online. Remember to support your local wild crafters if you can and read the labels - imported seaweed does not always include preservatives or additive information.
In the Kitchen: Remember to always rinse your seaweed multiple times in fresh water before use. The simplest way to cook seaweed is to throw it into whatever you are cooking, especially soups. Kombu is superb added to beans. It thickens the broth and adds a subtle saltiness without toughening the beans like table salt does. Let it simmer, then you can take it out, chop it up, and add it back in, or even rinse it, dehydrate, and reuse. Use one or two pieces a few inches long for one pot of beans or soup; any type of seaweed will do.
Nori is one of the most delicate and delectable seaweeds. Lay it out in a toaster oven or bake in a pan to toast it. Spritz with Tamari or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos and crumble it onto nuts or popcorn. Combine with sesame seeds to make Gomasio (seaweed recipes here) then sprinkle on everything you would normally use salt for another way to introduce seaweed into your diet.
Dulse, which is more common on the Atlantic, can also be dried and crumbled. Its red color adds pizzazz to simple broths and it is divine in a white miso, ginger, and dulse soup. Seaweed is excellent at restoring the body’s depleted minerals.
Many people who have experienced salt cravings will feel satiated if they add a sprinkle of Dulse or Nori to their food. It’s not sodium (salt), but rather vital potassium, but your taste buds can’t tell the difference.
In the Bath: Leftover fresh seaweed is great in the bath. Anything you find fresh at the ocean will do, but especially Turkish Towel, a variety that is rough and wide like a washcloth. Just throw it into your bathwater (or place in a net bag first, if you prefer). The seaweed can be re-used by dehydrating it after use.
In the Garden: Seaweed is a tonic for the soil as well. Any variety, even those washed up on the shore, will do. Ring seaweed around fruit trees as a "necklace" and cover with a bit of soil and water. It can also be added straight to compost. Seaweed in the garden does not add salt to the soil and rinsing is unnecessary.
The steaming pot of seaweed soup has made my Sea Witch false eyelashes stick together. "Mmmm, smells good mom," I hear my daughter say. "By the way, nice outfit." She loves seaweed too.
- Heidi Lewis