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Sea Vegetable Cuisine by Aveline Kushi

Each spring a fisherman's wife from Oki Island on the Sea of Japan would journey to our mountain village and go door to door selling sea vegetables. Strapped on her back was dried wakame, a chief ingredient used in making miso soup. Wakame usually comes in long thin strips, but this wakame was specially dried in large sheets like nori, the sea vegetable used in wrapping sushi. My mother bought sufficient quantity to last the coming year. The wakame was so nice and tender that it didn't need cooking. We cut it with scissors, roasted it briefly over an open flame, and used it in teas, for snacks, in miso soup, as an addition to daikon pickles, crushed as a condiment on top of brown rice, or as wrapping for rice balls.

In my youth I took seaweeds for granted, and it wasn't until I was unable to get them in later life that I fully appreciated their value. Once in 1952, during my first pregnancy, I was in Paris and craved sea vegetables but couldn't find any. While trooping around the streets, I came upon a fish market and discovered a bunch of clams sitting in a bed of giant kelp. I offered to buy the kelp, but the shopkeeper, surprised at my desire to devour the seaweed instead of the clams, readily gave me the slimy green substance. The kelp was very tough, but I cooked it a long time, and it satisfied my need for extra minerals.

For optimal health, we need to balance foods that grow above the ground with those that grow below the sea. The deep ocean from which primordial life evolved, has a salty composition similar to human blood. Sea vegetables are high in iron, calcium, iodine, Vitamins A, B12, C, and other nutrients and are a perfect complement to whole grains, beans, and vegetables growing on land. The fiber is sea plants is softer than in land plants and more digestible. Wild bears, deer, foxes, and domesticated horses and cattle along coastal regions all naturally nibble seaweed and algae on the rocks and shore. By eating a small amount of this ancient form of life each day, we strengthen our bodies, experience more the energy of the earth as a whole, and develop toward universal consciousness.

Most Westerners who are not accustomed to sea vegetables at first find their flavor, smell, and texture foreign. However, properly cooked and introduced into the diet gradually, these vegetables become truly appetizing and are soon viewed as an integral part of the new way of eating.

In the beginning I recommend started with arame, nori, and dulse, which are milder tasting, and then moving on to kombu, wakame, and hiziki, which are stronger and more flavorful. Arame has a naturally sweet taste and light texture which lends itself to serving as a small side dish and is the seaweed most commonly enjoyed by newcomers. Nori comes in sheets which can be lightly toasted for a few seconds over an open flame and can be used in wrapping sushi or rice balls or crushed and sprinkled on soups, salads, grains, or vegetables. Dulse usually comes in thin strips or in powder form and also can be roasted and used as a condiment.

Wakame, kombu, and hiziki may be introduced in small amounts, especially in miso soups and in combination with root vegetables or whole soybeans. Long-time cooking changes their aroma, and their fishy taste and smell disappear. It also makes them tender and more digestible. A little kombu enhances the taste of grains and beans and shortens their cooking time. Simply place a 3- to 6-inch piece of kombu beneath the other ingredients in the pressure cooker or pot. This is a simple way to make the acquaintance of this savory sea vegetable as is kombu stock, the basic broth for noodles and stews.

Arame with Onions

1 ounce dried arame 1 tablespoon dark sesame oil 2 medium-sized onions, sliced Spring water 2 to 3 tablespoons tamari soy sauce

Wash and drain the arame. Brush a frying pan with the oil and heat it. Add the onions and saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Place the arame on top of the onions and add water to just cover the onions. Bring to a boil, turn the heat to low, and add a small amount of tamari soy sauce. Cover and simmer for about 40 to 50 minutes. Add more tamari soy sauce to taste. The mixture should have a mild salt taste but not be overly salty. Simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes and then mix and stir until the liquid has evaporated.

Kombu and Dried Daikon

2 strips kombu 3 to 4 shiitake mushrooms, soaked, stemmed, and sliced 1/2 cup dried daikon, soaked and sliced Vegetable soaking water Tamari soy sauce

Wash, soak, and thinly slice the kombu. Put the kombu in a pot with the shiitake. Set the dried daikon on top. Add the soaking water to just cover and bring to a boil. Cover and turn the heat to low. Simmer for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the kombu is very soft. Season with a little tamari soy sauce to taste and simmer until remaining liquid has almost evaporated.

Wakame and Scallions with Miso-Rice Vinegar Sauce

1 ounce dried wakame Spring water 1/2 cup sliced scallions 2 teaspoons pureed barley miso 4 teaspoons brown rice vinegar

Wash, soak, and slice the wakame into small pieces. Put the wakame in a saucepan with a little water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and cover. Simmer several minutes. Remove, drain, and let cool. Transfer the wakame to a bowl and mix in the sliced scallions. Put the pureed barley miso and brown rice vinegar in a suribachi and puree. Add a little water and further puree until smooth and creamy. Mix the miso-rice vinegar sauce in with the wakame and scallions.

Toasted Nori Squares

4 sheets nori Grated fresh ginger Tamari soy sauce Mirin

Toast the sheets of nori and cut them into small squares. Place several squares of nori on each individual serving plate. Place a pinch of grated ginger and 2 to 3 drops of tamari soy sauce and mirin (a sweet cooking wine) on each serving.

A note from The Natural Connection:
Aveline's cookbooks are available through The Natural Connection's Bookstore.



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