Leave the little fishies alone. Try the other sea food — seaweed.
Oh, don’t make a face. Also called sea vegetables, seaweed offers protein, amino acids and oceans of vitamins and essential minerals, including iodine, iron and potassium. There are 30 edible varieties of seaweed:
▪ Mild red seaweed including agar, dulse and nori (sushi wrap) — Japanese infants teethe on it.
▪ Richer brown seaweed like arame, kelp, kombu and wakame, a chilled emerald-green salad served in Japanese restaurants — a terrific summer refresher.
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▪ Lemony/salty green seaweed — sea lettuce — is beloved throughout the United Kingdom, where it grows abundantly along the coast.
Choose organic seaweed, avoid hijiki, a brown seaweed with high arsenic levels, and don’t confuse carrageen, or Irish moss, with its derivative, carrageenan. Carrageenan is used to thicken processed foods, including many plant-based milks.
The web is tangled with claims carrageenan contributes to gut inflammation. The jury’s still out. However, carrageen in whole form has been eaten and enjoyed on both sides of the Atlantic for centuries. The Irish use it instead of gelatin. In the Caribbean, they whiz it with cinnamon and nutmeg into a thick, sweet shake.
Seaweed of one kind or another has been a healing dietary mainstay almost everywhere but here. The tide may be turning. A shoal of seaweed snacks has washed up on our shores. New faves:
▪ Seasnax Chomperz (1 ounce, $3.99), curls of organic seaweed with a crispy rice flour coating, are GMO-free and available in four flavors, including jalapeño. They’re slightly seaweedy and, just like the package promises, strangely addictive.
One serving contains 40 calories, 2 fat grams, 85 milligrams sodium, no fiber, but 4 protein grams.
▪ Gim is Korean for seaweed, and Annie Chun aptly names her new product Gimme Organic Seaweed Rice Chips (4 ounces, $4.99). Made with organic seaweed, brown rice, lentils and sesame seeds, they’re like tortilla chips but crunchier. Varieties include teriyaki, wasabi and sea salt, all with a mild seaweed taste.
One ounce has 130 calories, 7 fat grams, 90 milligrams sodium, 1 fiber gram and 2 protein grams.
Both are gluten-free and at Whole Foods. While you’re there, step up your seaweed. Dried nori sheets like Emerald Cove Organic Pacific Sushi Nori (.9 ounces, $6.49) make homemade maki a breeze. Even easier, toss a nori sheet in the blender when you make a green smoothie.
Ellen Kanner is the author of “Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner.” On Twitter: @edgyveggie1.
Miami Maki (Nontraditional Sushi Rolls)
This is not traditional Japanese sushi. This is Miami, we can mix it up. Ix-nay fish in favor of seasonal, local produce, Florida flavors and a hit of sriracha. Quinoa replaces white sushi rice for a whole-grain boost. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
2 cups water
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
Pinch of sea salt
4 organic nori sheets
1 avocado, sliced skinny (about 1/4 inches)
1/2 pound firm tofu, pressed and sliced skinny (about 1/4 inches)
4 radishes (or 1/2 daikon), sliced skinny (about 1/4 inches)
1 handful fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
A few judicious squirts of sriracha
Bring water to boil in a medium saucepan. Add rinsed, drained quinoa. Cover, reduce heat to simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed, the quinoa is fluffed and has popped out its little endosperm tails. While the quinoa is still hot, gently mix in rice vinegar and sea salt. Set aside to cool.
Take a nori sheet and place sheet shiny side up. Cover evenly with a layer of quinoa, about 3/4 cup, leaving a 1-inch bare strip at the top. Place a single slice of avocado, tofu and radish in a narrow strip at the bottom end. Top with a sprinkle of chopped cilantro and squirt on a skinny stripe of sriracha.
Rinse your hands in cool water. Start at the bottom end of the nori sheet, and with damp hands, roll up firmly. When you come to the top, moisten the exposed nori strip. This will help the nori to adhere. Roll all the way up and press firmly to seal. Repeat with remaining nori sheets.
Dip a sharp knife in ice water and slice each maki roll into 6 to 8 slices, about 3/4-inch thick.
Notes and tips: Try other nontraditional maki fillings, like thinly sliced mango, red pepper, marinated mushrooms and tempeh, a few edamame, lightly steamed asparagus or a handful of arugula. Quinoa may be cooked and cooled a day ahead. Keep well-covered and refrigerate until ready to use. Prep and slice vegetables and tofu in advance so they’re ready when you assemble maki. Sushi mats are helpful but not essential. Use a good sharp knife for slicing rolls. Sriracha can be found in most gourmet markets, Asian markets and in the ethnic section of many supermarkets.
Source: Ellen Kanner.