Illustration by Kristy Heilenday
Most marine algae are edible, and each variety offers its own blend of nutrients. Archaeological finds indicate that sea vegetables were eaten as early as 300 B.C. in Japan, used as fuel during the Bronze Age, and ingested for medicinal purposes prior; they’ve been a foraged and farmed dietary staple for centuries throughout Asia, the Americas and, well, any country with a coastline. To this day, seaweed can be found and enjoyed the world over, a boon to both cuisine and marine ecosystems. Throughout the last century, names of specific strains such as wakame have become umbrella terms for seaweed, though each variety can lend something different to your dish.
What to Buy
You’ve most likely seen seaweed in salad form, neon and dark green tangles offered as an appetizer at what feels like every sushi restaurant in the country. But before seaweed gets to your plate, it often begins dried or frozen. Dried is most common, and you can find bags of it at your local Asian or health-food grocery store, or buy it online. The long, meaty wakame strands work well for salads, while the dense kombu is a perfect broth seasoning, and nori — those thin, dried sheets — hugs your sushi and often floats atop miso soup.
How to Prepare
Most dried seaweed must be soaked in cool water for a minimum of five minutes and rinsed, which both rehydrates the seaweed and reduces sodium. (Follow the package’s rehydration directions.) When buying fresh, be sure to soak and rinse thoroughly to remove salt. From there, slice and toss the strands, cold, into a salad; pickle them; add them to a hot stir fry; sprinkle atop seasoned rice; or fry thin pieces in oil and eat them as chips.
Korean Birthday Soup
By Sara Chang of JKOGI
1 ounce dried wakame (also known as “sea mustard” or “brown seaweed”)
1/4 pound beef brisket, cubed
2 tablespoons Korean soup soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
4 cups water
1 ½ tablespoons garlic, minced
sea salt, to taste
Soak the dried seaweed in a water bath, roughly 1 hour, then drain and chop the seaweed into bite-size pieces. In a large soup pot, heat sesame oil over medium heat. Add the brisket, garlic and soy sauce and sauté until beef is fully cooked, about 5 minutes. Add the hydrated seaweed and sauté for 2 minutes, then add the water and turn heat to high until water begins to boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 20 minutes. Salt to taste, then serve drizzled with a few drops of sesame oil and a side of white sticky rice.