Seaweed, also known as sea vegetables, are an excellent food to include in any diet, but are especially important and useful in a low budget vegetarian diet. I realize that the idea of eating seaweed is hard to take for a lot of Americans. I want to introduce sea vegetables to you in a way that you can include in your diet without noticing them.
Here are some reasons why I suggest using sea vegetables as part of a low budget vegetarian diet.
- They are a dried food that keeps indefinitely.
- They are used in small amounts, so they are economical.
- They are an excellent source of added minerals to your diet, including calcium, iron, and iodine.
- Correctly used they increase the digestibility of beans, and enhance the flavor of beans, stews and other vegetables they are cooked with.
- They can be added invisibly to soups, salads and vegetable dishes, adding nutrition without being noticed.
Here I want to introduce you to Invisible Seaweed, getting started using these wonderful sea vegetables without you or your guests noticing them.
There are a few main kinds of sea vegetables that you may want to consider starting with.
Kombu is a Japanese sea vegetable. It is a flat leaf, about the thickness of construction paper. It comes in small sheets, or cut up into thin strips, or wrinkled sticks.
Kombu is used to cook with beans, in their cooking water, to make them easier to digest and to enhance their flavor. I use about a 3 inch stick of kombu, or about a tablespoon of the shredded strips, per cup of dried beans. Kombu also slightly thickens the cooking liquid for beans and stews. Cooked long enough (over about 40 minutes), kombu just dissolves into the broth when stirred.
Kelp is the Atlantic coast, North American equivalent of kombu, and it can be used in the same way as kombu. The leaves of kelp are a little bit thinner than kombu and dissolve more quickly.
Kombu and kelp both have a natural flavor enhancing quality that works in the same way as msg, but without any negative side effects.
(Note that some health food stores sometimes carry ground kelp as a mineral supplement. This is not always the same plant as the whole kelp leaves, and canít be used in the same way.)
Kelp granules work very well added like a seasoning to dishes like stir fries, sauces or salads. A tablespoon or two of kelp in a dish adds a good amount of mineral nutrition, and enhances the overall flavor of the dish without adding much flavor of its own. Kelp granules are available in stores in small shaker-type dispensers, or much more economically in bulk. (See the information on Maine Coast Sea Vegetables below if you are interested.)
Wakame is another Japanese seaweed that comes in dried sticks. It is soaked in cool water for 10 minutes or more and the soaking water is discarded. Wakame has soft thin leaves attached to a thicker stem that is cut away, and the leafy part can be chopped and added to soups, stews or salads. Wakame has a very mild flavor and soft texture that is masked by salty and sour seasoning.
Kombu and wakame are available from some Asian markets, and in coops and stores that stock macrobiotic cooking ingredients.
I have only touched on a few ways of getting started including sea vegetables to enhance your cooking. There are many other kinds of sea vegetables, and ways of preparing them that can be tasty and enjoyable in their own right. I highly recommend making friends with them
If you are interested in finding out more about cooking with sea vegetables, or if you want a good online and mail order source of sea vegetable products, I highly recommend checking out Maine Coast Sea Vegetables. Here is how they describe their products.