Sea Vegetables

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Looking out the back window of our VW Bug, my 8-year-old eyes would look for signs of sand, any sand, that would signal we were close to the beach.

I finally spotted a windswept pile as we turned onto PCH, and I readied myself for my favorite place. Little Corona was a special little beach for my family, where we would escape the heat of the summer. It was then and there, standing on top of the hill looking out over the cliffs that I fell in love with the ocean, its glorious blue beauty stretched out for miles.

With the wind tickling my face, I had watched the faraway seals sitting on the jutting rocks that formed the little cove down below, my mind open to every wonder the ocean offered. My brother and I would always want to run down the steep hill, but had to restrain ourselves into a walk. Once we hit the sandy beach, though, it was a race to the water’s edge and reaching the ocean just as a wave receded I had stood on the sand awed as bubbles popped all over, knowing little silver crabs were burrowing down until the next cycle of waves brought them back up for more tidbits.

Nothing has changed. The cadence of the ocean is still a comforting rhythm as I stand, all grown up, looking out at the waves while the water rushes around my feet, strands of kelp and sea grasses wrapping my ankles, bits of foam falling behind me to form a jagged line where the water had just touched.

My love for the ocean has never left, and in my older age I grasp the incredible life-giving properties of the sea for all of us living on this planet. The cycle of life rests on the seas’ waters, which provide us with many things, including food.

Coming from a health point of view, I understand completely the goodness seafood presents with its essential fatty acids and lean protein. But being a long-time non-meat-fish-chicken-pork-anything-with-a-face eater I want to suggest other prizes the ocean offers us.

Sea vegetables, or more commonly, seaweeds, contain a wealth of nutrition. What a shame more of it isn’t incorporated into our meals. Of course, many cultures do eat this incredible delicacy on a regular basis. Lucky for them, because all the minerals we require –  calcium, sodium, magnesium, potassium, iodine, iron and zinc – can be found in seaweed. These edible plants from the sea also contain trace elements such as beta-carotene, B1, B2, B6, niacin, vitamin C, pantothenic acid and folic acid. Some even contain B-12, which rarely occurs in land plants.

I know, I get it, seaweeds tastes, well, like salty ocean water up the nose. It’s just a food people aren’t used to eating that makes it seem so un-appetizing.

But check out sushi, quite a popular dish. A lot of the rolls are wrapped in nori, and the edible red algae species is one third protein and one third dietary fiber. Flattened into dark green sheets it can be toasted to a bright green to give a nice nutty flavor. Nori now comes in seaweed packs flavored with sesame oil and salt, a healthier treat than potato chips.  You can also try stirring some ground nori into black truffle risotto for a nice accent flavor.

Arame, a species of kelp is also high in all kinds of minerals, vitamin A, peptides that augment our own immune system and lignans – phytoestrogens that also act as antioxidants. With its mild, semi-sweet flavor, these strands of seaweed can be added to salads, casseroles and soups. Try adding this seaweed to sautéed kale, with ginger, garlic, and sesame seeds for an outstanding dish.

For those interested in burning fat, Wakame has a compound, fucoxanthin, that helps burn fatty tissue. It also is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids – among the highest for a vegetarian source.

One of my favorites to use, I just grab some of my fermented miso out of the fridge, add hot water (never boil miso), drop finely chopped green onions into it and then cut the wakame fronds into small pieces, adding to the mixture for a delicious nutritious soup. The bright green seaweed expands and lends a delicious taste to the miso.

And the best use of seaweed has been thoroughly approved paws down, by Rocky my chow-hound gourmet pampered pooch, who happily barks that untoasted nori sheets plain from the wrapper torn into bite size pieces is a crunchy piece of heaven for a tail-waggin’ snack, any time.

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