Ocean Greens: Explore the World of Edible Seaweed and Sea Vegetables
In my very first introduction to Japanese culture and language in fifth grade, our sensei handed out nori snacks – those crunchy, salty potato chip impostors beloved in Korea, Japan, and now the United States. Twelve-year-old me had grown up on hearty Polish comfort foods like pierogi and kasha and my taste buds weren’t quite sure what to make of nori – the intense umami sensation enhanced by salt and a touch of oil. I devoured them eagerly and have been a devotee of seaweed ever since.
Here in Japan, we are blessed with an enormous assortment of fresh and dried seaweed year-round, from the tougher kombu used as a base for dashi (Japan’s mother stock), aonori, wakame and mekabu to more delicate seaweeds like hijiki. (Check out Tofugu’s awesome illustrated guide here.) Gleaming piles of seaweed and sea vegetables fresh from that morning’s catch can be found piled on tables at every Japanese morning market and grocery store, and dried seaweed earns an entire aisle in Japanese stores, from tororo kombu (grated seaweed used as a noodle topping) and salted kombu strips to kombucha (kombu tea; no relation to American / Russian fermented kombucha).
So naturally I was excited when I learned that The Experiment was publishing “Ocean Greens: Explore the World of Edible Seaweed and Sea Vegetables” by Lisette Kreischer and Marcel Schuttelaar. Both authors are deeply involved with the production and harvesting of seaweed in the Netherlands, and this beautifully-photographed guide to the various types of fresh and dried seaweeds, algae, and sea vegetables found in Europe, North America and Asia will empower you to start out on your own journey of discovery. If you aren’t lucky enough to live near a seafood shop or market that carries fresh seaweed, dried seaweed products are readily available online through Amazon or Maine Coast Sea Vegetables (dulce, kombu, sea lettuce, rockweed, Irish moss, laver).
The authors do a fantastic job of breaking down the various types of seaweed (including growing locations and seasons as well as nutritional composition; seaweed and sea vegetables are full of minerals such as calcium, phosphorus and magnesium, vitamins, and iodine). Photographs of the various fresh and dried seaweeds are helpful for visual identification.
The 50 included recipes are all plant-based (vegan), and include ideas for seaweed-enhanced pestos, dressings, seasoning mixes, dips and spreads, appetizers, soups and salads, pastas, mains, and even smoothies and ice creams. For this review, I made several including the pesto from the sea, sailor mustard dressing, sweet wakame dressing, tofu with seaweed crunch, warm dulce and fava bean salad, and eggplant caviar. Because seaweed is such a good source of umami and already includes salt, it really adds a unique depth of flavor to recipes that normally animal products (cheese, stocks) would deliver. I loved the seaweed pesto (which I served over fresh pasta and used leftovers to make an insalata caprese) and the sesame-based wakame dressing for quick and easy dinner ideas. I was also thrilled to find fresh ice plant here in Japan; although I've been eating seaweed for several decades, this was my first encounter with this beautiful, tender green that can be served raw or lightly cooked (I paired it with the sweet wakame dressing).
The tofu with seaweed crunch was another standout; I used my favorite Japanese tofu, shimadofu, which is an extra-firm, savory tofu from Okinawa. Because of its density, it is also less likely to fall apart while frying, making it a good choice for this recipe. I have bookmarked several others to try including the seaweed gnocchi, autumn wild rice salad with hijiki, polenta fries with sea lettuce crisps, and the healthy and happy bowl.
Recipes are clearly written in both US and metric, in an easy-to-read font on matte paper (which I appreciate as it is much easier to read / cook from when using a cookbook holder). The book also includes a fairly comprehensive list of where to buy seaweed (in the United States). Overall this is a brilliant book that will hopefully encourage readers to embrace this healthy and nutritious source of minerals, vitamins, and other health benefits; here in Japan, seaweed is a part of every meal, but for most Americans and Europeans, it may be their first encounter with using seaweed and sea vegetables as part of their diet. The included recipes show off various types of seaweeds to their best advantage using dishes that will be already familiar to readers (pasta, gnocchi, hummus). “Ocean Greens” has been nominated for the 2017 IACP cookbook awards, and it totally deserves to win!