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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sea Veggies:

You have to live under a rock not to notice the invasion of sea vegetable snacks of the past couple of years. They come nicely packaged, and moms allover are thrilled to feed them to their children en lieu of potato chips and other crunchy, uber-processed snacks. 

I will first disclose that I've never purchased any, as none of the brands are kosher certified --the only explanation I found for the need of certification in sea vegetables, is that some times, the seaweed sheets can have tiny parts of sea horses pressed into them--but I'm sure a kosher manufacturer is looking into it in China as I write. However, I do feed seaweed snacks to my kids. I just make them myself at home, and I'm happy to keep preparing them, as I know exactly what goes into the treat (and they only take minutes).

Let's first talk a bit about seaweed, algae or sea vegetables. The foremost thing to keep in mind is that you should buy them in organic form--or at least know their place of origin--as you've probably heard  how polluted with heavy metals our oceans are, and that's exactly where sea vegetables grow. Organic certification ensures that the sea vegetable is either "farmed" in a closely-monitored, contained water environment; or that it's harvested in the wild, but in a region where the water is better protected against pollutants. 

Now...why on Earth would you want to eat algae? 

Well, they have the richest concentration of minerals of anything that's edible, as they absorb all the ones present in the ocean. They also have a great variety of phytochemicals, and a special kind--called fucoidans--that's unique to them and has anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and cardiovascular benefits; they also contain other unique types of antioxidants. They are an excellent source of iodine (therefore they are good for our thyroid) and vitamin K. They are a good source of some B vitamins, magnesium, iron, calcium, vitamin C (which is a perfect pairing with its iron content for digestibility) and E. 
Some seaweeds are also very rich in Omega 3 fatty acids (that's where fish get them from!). Sea vegetables also contain vanadium, which may play an important role in blood glucose regulation. Sea vegetables also have cholesterol-lowering effects, and this may play a role in decreasing the risk for some estrogen-related cancers (such as breast cancer). Besides thyroid benefits, it's been suggested that sea vegetables are good for our immune system, and our adrenal glands.
Some sources indicate that sea vegetables help our bodies detoxify from heavy metals, environmental pollutants and carcinogenic substances (although more research is needed in this area).

Culinary speaking, sea vegetables are a typical ingredient in Asian cuisines, especially Japanese. However, they've been consumed by most societies in coastal areas, from New Zealand, to South America, to Ireland. They have a rich umami flavor, which can make them a great ally in the kitchen to add some "deliciousness" to dishes, and which may explain why we love sea weed chips, sushi and miso soup so much!
Seaweed is classified into categories by color, and that's how we get brown, red or green algae.

The following are my favorite (and easier to find at health food stores and online, with kosher certification) kinds of sea vegetables:

Nori: this is the one in sushi. It's sold as squares (although it doesn't grow like that. It's a mixture of red seaweeds that are pressed together and dried). You can find it toasted (dark green) or untoasted (almost black), and you'd need to toast it before using it: 6 to 7 minutes in a 350 F preheated oven does the trick. You can use it to wrap virtually any food. The untoasted one is the right one for making chips, and you will season the nori before toasting it. 

- Kombu: A brown algae that's great for making soup. It imparts its umami flavor and releases many minerals into the stock. Throw a piece of dried kombu into the pot when cooking beans or chickpeas or other hard-to-digest vegetables, as kombu makes them more digestable. You can remove it after 20 minutes and the food will be infused with flavor, minerals and its nutrients will be more available to you body. 

-Wakame:  It looks a bit similar to kombu, and it's one of the highest sources of vegetarian omega-3s.If you've ever had miso soup, the green leaves floating in it along with the tofu are wakame. To prepare it, soak it in cold water for 5 minutes. Remove, slice (removing tough stems, if any) and add it into soups, stews, or grains. It goes really well with citrus and acid, in general. Wakame can be roasted until brown and crispy and can be used crumbled as a seasoning, the way you'd use salt.

-Arame: Also a brown algae. It has a mild flavor (therefore a great one to start if you've never had seaweed) and is usually sold as strands. You can just soak it in cold water for 5 minutes, drain and throw it into salads, saute with vegetables or cook it along in soups after soaking. Boil it for 10 minutes and add it to marinated dishes.



-Nori sheets (as many as you need), not toasted

-Expeller pressed olive, coconut or grape seed oil spray (or oil and a pastry brush) OR
honey, coconut nectar or maple syrup dissolved in water, so they are not as sticky

Toppings: fine sea salt, spices, nutritional yeast, dry herbs, unsweeted coconut shreds, sesame, chia, hemp, poppy seeds, citrus zest, honey, coconut nectar or maple syrup (dissolved in water)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a (or 2) rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. 

2. Place as many nori sheets as you can fit in one layer on the baking sheet(s). Lightly* spray (or brush) nori on one side with oil or dissolved liquid sweetener.

3. Sprinkle with topping and bake for 6 to 7 minutes, until nori changes from black to dark green. Cool and enjoy.

*Lightly is the key word. You don't want it soggy.

Some suggested combinations:
-Olive oil + nutritional yeast + chipotle powder or smoked paprika
-Coconut nectar + coconut shreds+ sea salt + hemp seeds
-Olive oil + sumac + garlic powder + lemon zest

1 comment:

ardell borodach said...

Hi Alexandra,
Love your blogs. Even without children
to feed, I always am inspired by your
information and ideas.
You've been on my "to call" list for ages,
but you know about good intentions and
the road to hell.
Hope you, Vitor,Eleana, and Ari are well.
Would love to get together when you have
Keep in touch and all the best.
Love, Ardell