Why You Should Cook With Seaweed
Kale and Sea Lettuce Pesto. Photograph courtesy of Penguin
Chef Ms Xa Milne explains the benefits of eating seaweed and recommends a delicious kale and sea lettuce pesto recipe to try at home.
Seaweed has been a dietary staple in the human diet for centuries, but it’s only recently that it has been labelled a superfood (sigh). Stay with us though: seaweed is not only packed with minerals, but very good at stimulating the fifth, mysteriously savoury taste – umami. It also comes in 10,000 edible varieties and can be easily and sustainably foraged from coastal locations across the globe. All of the above traits have made it a favourite ingredient of experimental and progressive chefs including Messrs René Redzepi, Heston Blumenthal and James Lowe. But it’s still not the accessible element to introduce into your home kitchen. For one thing, if you don’t want to wade into the shallows yourself, where do you even get it from? Thankfully, we now have Ms Xa Milne’s new book The Seaweed Cookbook (Penguin) – a “starter manual” for those wanting jump on this latest food trend. Part encyclopedia, part cookbook, this comprehensive guide combines Ms Milne’s extensive knowledge on the subject (she is a pioneer of the British seaweed industry with an incredibly successful seaweed business, Mara Seaweed to her name) with inventive and easy-to-follow recipes, many contributed by expert chefs. It’s not all sushi and poké either, recipes range from mussel, pea and seaweed broth to dulse and banana ice cream. To whet your appetite, we’ve previewed one such concoction, a Kale and Sea Lettuce Pesto, at the bottom of this article. But if you still need further convincing, we’ve asked Ms Milne to explain just why everyone is banging on about this intriguing ingredient at the moment:
It adds bucket-loads of flavour
Seaweed’s flavour profile is difficult to pin down, but one thing you can be sure of is that any variety you choose will be umami-laden, which means that as well as adding a pleasing savoury taste to your dish, it will “make you feel satisfied and comforted”. “Flavour is at the heart of all good eating,” says Ms Milne, “and indeed the only reason to keep beating the seaweed drum”. Different varieties can add a wealth of dimensions to your dishes, fitting in with everything from Middle Eastern flavours as well as the best-known association with Asian-influenced cuisine. While seaweed is most commonly used to lend salty qualities, dried and fresh seaweeds have plenty more to offer. “Dulse has smoky bacony notes with a sweet aftertaste,” says Ms Milne, “while kombu is a more granular herby taste. Alaria or wakame has a nutty sweetness.”
Science gives it a thumbs up
A low-sodium alternative to table salt, dried seaweed used as a condiment boasts obvious benefits. But further than this, the sea vegetable can vastly contribute to our health and wellbeing. Seaweed contains all 57 trace elements required for the body to successfully function, including nutrients and minerals difficult to source from other foodstuffs. It is also filled with those much sought-after antioxidants, and as a low GI food, which means, says Ms Milne, “that it releases energy from food more slowly, to help prevent sugar highs” and can therefore aid weight loss.
The textures are unique and intriguing
“Like land vegetables, seaweed can be eaten raw cured, boiled, roasted and pan fried,” says Ms Milne, “…and there are endless ways to incorporate into your diet.” Whether you’re looking to add a crunch to a dish, or simply after something interesting to chew on, you’ll find a seaweed to fit the bill. Update your spiralised courgetti with a handful of sea spaghetti – a tagliatelle lookalike kelp that will add bite to the dish and absorb flavour, or for a more subtle introduction, add some sea lettuce flakes into your repertoire with the below recipe for kale, seaweed and walnut pesto.
Ingredients:**_1 whole bulb and 2 cloves of garlic50g kale, leaves removed from stalks2 tbsp sea lettuce flakesJuice of half a lemon60g walnuts or cashews, chopped1 tbsp rapeseed oil60g grated Parmesan cheese
Method:Heat the oven to 200ºC/Gas 6. Cut the top off the head of the garlic bulb and sprinkle with oil. Wrap in tin foil and place on a baking tray in the oven for 20 minutes until soft and sweet. When it is cool, squeeze into kale and sea lettuce mixture with the garlic, lemon juice, walnuts and half of the oil and blitz in a food processor until well combined. Add the Parmesan and the rest of the oil and mix for a few seconds. Add some hot water if too thick.
Serve as a relish or side dish with fish or vegetarian food.