Seaweed – Our own free, healthy, versatile and plentiful food

The Japanese who visit Ireland are frequently baffled that we eat so little seaweed. When they walk along the seashore they recognise many of the sea weed and sea vegetables that they seek out and relish in Japan, yet they rarely if ever come across seaweed in any form on mainstream Irish menus.

Granted – an occasional restaurant like the Ivory Tower or the Quay Coop in Cork offers sushi and seaweed salads. Traditional Carrigeen Moss pudding is regularly featured on the Ballymaloe House sweet trolley, but considering the abundance of sea we have access to, its extraordinary that we don’t make better use of this brilliantly healthy food.

I’m as guilty as the rest of overlooking this very important food group, but after an enlightening evening on ‘Seaweed – Our own free, healthy, versatile and plentiful food’ at the Cork Free Choice Consumer Group Meeting in May, I was fired by enthusiasm. The speakers were Olivier Beaujouan, Clair McSweeney and Jill Bell. Olivier comes from France and now lives in Castlegregory, Co Kerry. He became passionate about sea vegetables in Ireland. He spoke eloquently and passionately in his soft French accent about the benefits of sea weed, both from the culinary and medicinal point of view.

He has made a business from seaweed and now sells a range of Irish seaweed based products including his addictive Tapenade of Sea Vegetables, Pickled Kombu, Sea Spaghetti, fish and organic pork products like Lemon and Trout, Seaweed Salmon, Smoked Mckerel, Laver Pork …. at Farmers’ Markets and specialist shops around the country.

Clair McSweeney originally came from Limerick. She has travelled widely and was thrilled to find sushi in San Francisco. Memories of eating dilisk in Kilkee during her childhood flooded back. She linked up with the indomitable Seamus O’Connell at the Yumi Yuki Club on her return to Cork. She made a delicious array of haddock dengaku sushi, agar and sake jelly with a lychee heart and a seaweed salad laced with cucumber, daikon and ginger, which I couldn’t get enough of.

Just this week I spent a few days at a Soil Association meeting at Penrhos in Wales where 

Daphne Lambert cooked truly delicious vegetarian food from her organic garden and from local farms. She explained that the benefits of eating sea vegetables are enormous. 

Jill Bell, owner of Well & Good in Midleton and Chairperson of the Irish Association of the Health Stores, also stressed that the benefits of seaweed for both animals and humans were well recognised. Evidence shows that it was valued by our ancestors - recognised in China since 3000BC. St Columbus’s Monks, the Romans, all valued sea vegetables. In bygone years it was valued as a fertiliser, many a pitched battle was fought over seaweed on the strands around the coast – the Aran Islanders built soil with sand and seaweed and I remember as a child, my Uncle Frank making carrageen for his precious greyhounds because he strongly believed in its value to give them strength and speed.

Types of Seaweed

In Japan there are 20 types of seaweed, but the main types available to us are 

Carrageen – meaning little rock in Gaelic – this frond like seaweed is collected off the rocks after the lowest tides of the year, spread out to dry on the bouncy grass on the cliffs, washed by the rain, bleached by the sun. After 2-3 weeks its ready to use or store. We love carrageen and eat it regularly – in fact all my babies were weaned onto carrageen moss. It is high in Vitamin A and iodine and also contains Vitamin B and many minerals. 

Nori – the seaweed used to wrap sushi - 9 million of these thin crisp sheets are eaten every year. The Welsh call it laver and apparently the name Liverpool is derived from Laverpool. Now widely available in supermarkets and speciality shops.

Kelp – There are over 800 species of kelp, in fact it is the world’s largest plant family, best known as kombu, one of the two ingredients of dashi, the traditional Japanese stock, (Bonita flakes is the other). Clair McSweeney suggested adding a piece into the pot when you are boiling potatoes, instead of salt. A piece of kombu can also be added to beans to tenderise them and speed up the cooking.

Wakame – is sold in dry strips, its softer and more delicate than kombu. The taste and texture of the different varieties varies considerably, some are mild, others quite strong, so experiment. Soak the dried wakame for 15 minutes. Drain, squeeze out the excess moisture in salads, soups, champ, pasta ….

Dulse or Dilisk – is widely available around the Irish coast. Use it in salads, mashed potato, rice or polenta, or simply nibble, it’s a brilliant source of natural iron.

Hijiki – is not native to our waters, it is a black, richly flavoured seaweed imported from Japan. It is sold in packets, dried and already shredded. Soak for about 10 minutes, during which time it will swell dramatically. Delicious in salads or used in a similar way to other seaweeds.

Cabbage, Carrot and Hijiki Salad

Serves 4-6
6 ozs (175g) thinly sliced white cabbage
6 ozs (175g) carrot, grated
2ozs (50g) Hijiki
2 tablesp. mint and parsley sprigs
1 tablesp. toasted sesame seeds

2 tablesp. sesame oil
4 tablesp. Extra virgin olive oil
1 tablesp. Tamari (soy sauce)
1 tblesp. freshly squeezed orange juice
1-2 heaped teasp. honey
½ - 1 teasp. freshly grated ginger
salt and freshly ground pepper

Soak the seaweed in a large bowl of warm water for 30 minutes. Drain and cover with fresh warm water and continue to soak for 30 minutes more. Drain very well. It will have increased in volume by 3-5 times. 
Next whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing.
Combine the cabbage, carrot and seaweed in a salad bowl, add the dressing, toss well, taste, correct seasoning.
Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve.

Clair McSweeney’s Wakame Seaweed Salad

I tasted this delicious salad at a recent meeting of the Cork Free Choice Consumer’s Group and asked Clair McSweeney to share her recipe with us.
Serves 8

½ pickled daikon (Japanese radish) (available from Mr. Bells in Cork)
1 bag of Wakame Seaweed (Mr Bells, Quay Coop, Natural Foods & other health food shops)
1 large cucumber
1 handful pickled ginger

6 tablesp. rice wine vinegar
3 tablesp. Shoyu soy Sauce
2 tablesp. sugar

Pour lots of cold water over the seaweed and leave re-hydrate for about 15 minutes.
Peel the cucumber in strips along the length, cut in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and slice thinly.
Put about 8 fl.ozs (250ml) of water into a bowl, add 1 tablespoon of salt and the sliced cucumber. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes.
Mix the ingredients for the dressing in a saucepan, warm gently until the sugar has dissolved. 
Drain the cucumber and press out any excess water.
Drain the seaweed well and rinse with cold water. Drain very well again.
Mix all the ingredients together with the pickled ginger and diced daikon.
Refrigerate for about 30 minutes before serving, so it becomes cool and crisp.

Great with fried fish or tempura.

Sushi Rice

2lb (900g) sushi rice " No 1 Extra Fancy"
2 pints (1.2l) of water
Vinegared Rice
4fl oz (125ml) rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
5 teaspoons salt

Drain for 10 minutes in a colander or sieve under cold running water or until the water becomes clear.
‘Wake the rice’ up sitting in cold water for 30 to 45 minutes. Then cook in same water for 10 to 15 minutes until water has been absorbed, do not stir, do not even take off the lid. Turn up the heat for 10 seconds before turning the heat off. 

Remove lid, place a tea towel over the rice, replace lid and sit for 20 minutes.
Mix the rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt together, fold into the rice preferably in a shallow wooden bowl to absorb excess moisture, fanning it, to cool rapidly. 

Kunie’s Sushi Plate

For starter
Serves 4

Occasionally we have one or two Japanese students on the 12 Week course, Kunie Akita taught us how to make this delicious sushi.
Sushi Rice – prepared as in previous recipe 
3 sheets nori seaweed

7-8 slices smoked salmon (half) cut into 5mm strip (half) divide into two 2cm x 4 cm
2 avocado slice 3mm (⅛inch) rectangular ¾-1½inch (2cm x 4cm)
½ cucumber seeded and cut into ¼inch (5mm) strip
25g (1oz) cheddar cheese cut into ¼inch (5mm) strip
3-4 basil leaves

fennel leaves
Sauce and accompaniment
wasabi paste
Kikkoman soy-sauce
pickled ginger

Bamboo sudari mat for rolling
(These mats are available from Japanese or Asian shops, many health food shops and now even some supermarkets. If you can’t find one just use a clean tea towel as though you were making a swiss roll).

Prepare the rice as in the previous recipe for Sushi rice.

Lay a sheet of nori on the bamboo mat and spread a layer or rice over it. Make a shallow indentation and put in the filling. Roll the mat tightly. Press to seal, unroll. You can put whatever you like as the filling for example, smoked salmon and basil, cucumber, cheese.

Nigiri sushi
Make a little long ball with rice. Put a slice of fresh or smoked salmon on top. Garnish with fennel leaves or tie with a strip of nori. 

To serve
Cut the Norimaki into 6-8 pieces. Arrange 6 pieces of sushi in total on a plate. Put a little blob of wasabi mustard about the size of a small pea on the plate, a little dish of Kikkoman Soy sauce and a few slivers of picked ginger. 

To enjoy: Using chop sticks, put a tiny dot of wasabi on a piece of sushi, dip in soy sauce and eat.

Battleship sushi

Gunkan maki
Make this sushi close to the time of eating
Makes 18 pieces

For vinegar water
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
250ml (8floz) water

For sushi
3 sheets nori seaweed, each cut into 6 x 1 inch strips
½ quantity prepared sushi rice
wasabi paste
120g (4oz) of flying fish roe (dyed green, red or natural colour),
6 oysters or 60g (2oz) salmon roe

Mix the vinegar and water in a small bowl and set aside. 

Wet your hands in the vinegar water. Shape about a tablespoon of sushi rice into an oblong-shaped ball. Dry your hand and pick up a strip of nori. Wrap it around the rice ball with the smooth side of the nori facing outwards.

Crush a grain of cooked rice at the end of the strip of nori so that it sticks the nori down where it overlaps to form a ring around the rice. 
Dab a little wasabi paste onto the rice and flatten the rice slightly.

Spoon the topping onto the rice, keeping it inside the ring of nori.

Foolproof food

Carrageen Throat Syrup

From The Ballymaloe Cookbook by Myrtle Allen – she says -
“The Carrageen drink is for anyone suffering from an extremely sore throat, tonsillitis or measles. Sips of it provide a velvety healing potion to assuage the pain. Only offer it to severe cases or you will not be thanked for what is in other circumstances an unattractive drink.”

120ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) carrageen
600ml (1 pint/2½ cups) water approx.
2-4 teaspoons honey
½ lemon

Soak carrageen for 10 minutes in cup of water. Remove and put in 300ml/½ pint/1 ¼ cups fresh cold water and bring to boil slowly. Strain and add honey and lemon juice to taste. The drink should be thick and syrupy.

Top Tips 

Look out also for 

Marsh Samphire – it grows in estuaries and marshy areas. You’ll find this little bright green spiky succulent when the tide goes out. Its delicious served with fish, simply boil it briefly in water, toss in a little butter or olive oil – yummy and wildly nutritious.

Rock Samphire – Grows on rocks all round our coasts, like marsh samphire its best eaten young – at present its about to flower so the taste is strong and petroly.

Carrageen Moss – is available in health food shops, it keeps indefinitely, so no house should be without. It makes a brilliant drink to clear chesty colds – see Foolproof food.

Olivier Beaujouan - On the Wild Side, Kilcummin, Castlegregory, Co Kerry. Tel & Fax 066- 7139028.  

The Irish Farmhouse Cheese Recipes book, edited by Jane Russell and supported by Bord Bia, will be officially launched by Bord Bia at the Eurotoques Conference 2004 on Sunday 4th July at the Brooklodge Hotel, MacReddin Village, Co Wicklow. The book contains recipes from Irish Farmhouse Cheesemakers and is on sale nationwide €1.

Green Cuisine Food & Health Course at Penrhos Court, Kington, Herefordshire, HR5 3LH Tel 0044 1544 230720 fax 0044 1544 230754  

What you eat can have an enormous effect on your health, Daphne Lambert, nutritionist and chef, shows you which foods to choose and how to prepare them to create diet that keeps you healthy – Courses in October and November.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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