Many people are familiar with seaweed as a component of sushi or miso soup, but seaweed isn’t just for Japanese cuisine. Nori, the ubiquitous sushi roll wrapper, becomes a crispy snack in the oven. Dulse, a red seaweed eaten in Ireland, can be ground into a salty condiment. Pieces of kombu, a sturdy kelp, enhance the savory flavor of braised meats. Thin, dark strands of arame or hijiki are ideal for sauteed vegetables. Seaweed can even be a component of dessert with the gelling power of agar.
Crispy seaweed is a savory and naturally salty snack to eat as an alternative to chips. Deep-fry pieces of nori or dulse for several seconds until they crisp, and then drain them on paper towels. Or, bake pieces of seaweed at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes until the seaweed becomes crispy. For extra flavor, brush the seaweed with sesame oil or soy sauce before baking.
Pulverize lightly toasted seaweed in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle to make a salty condiment. Nori is usually pre-toasted and dry enough to grind straight out of the package. Dulse and wakame should be toasted before grinding; remove any thick ribs and toast the seaweed at 250 F until it becomes brittle. Sprinkle foods with the plain powdered seaweed, or make a seaweed condiment mixed with flaky salt, spices or sesame seeds.
Braises, Beans and Stocks
Simmering braised dishes, stocks and beans with a piece of kombu adds a savory depth of flavor. To use the kombu, add a 2- to 3-inch square of dried kombu to the pot at the same time as the liquid; remove the kombu before serving. With prolonged cooking, kombu eventually disintegrates. Cooking dried beans with kombu improves their texture, making them softer and creamier in the center.
Soups and Stir-Fries
Reconstituted arame, wakame and hijiki are ideal for stirring into soups, salads, sauteed vegetables and stir-fries. Soak the dried seaweed in cold water for about 10 minutes until it becomes tender. Discard the soaking water and rinse the seaweed before adding bite-sized pieces to your dish. Dulse does not require soaking; it is tender enough to add after a quick rinse. Add seaweed during the last few minutes of cooking for the best texture and flavor.
Use agar in desserts as a vegetarian alternative to gelatin. Soak agar flakes or powder in cold liquid for at least 10 minutes, and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the liquid, stirring constantly, until the liquid thickens and the agar dissolves. The liquid sets as it cools to room temperature. Agar has a stronger gelling power than gelatin; 1 teaspoon is enough to firmly set 2 cups of liquid.