About 160,000 years ago, the human diet went gourmet and started eating seaweed. This was about the time that all homo sapiens became coastal dwellers due to the fact the ocean contained a limitless source of nutrition including the super nutrient dense, salty seaweed. It turns out our ancestors were way smarter than us as we hardly eat seaweed unless it is wrapped up in a sushi roll.
It is interesting the note that seaweed contains the flavor profile of umami, which lights up the taste buds and ignites the response to eat as much as possible. In fact, seaweed is umami which MSG was originally grown from before it was turned into the chemical monster it is now days. Our bodies have evolved to highly desire this umami flavor since it was only in seaweed to our ancient grandparents. So seaweed=umami=nutrition, simple.
Seaweed is a supercharged food filled with antioxidants, calcium and a broad range of vitamins that we don’t typically get from land food. One of the most important of those nutrients is iodine, which is missing in most every other food we eat. Iodine is imperative for maintaining a happy thyroid gland and its and hormones. (That’s why they add it in salt)
It also has extraordinary high levels of calcium, B-12 and soluble fiber in it. Sea veggies seem to help regulates many of the hormones and it a major anti-inflammatory food. This is quite possibly the fountain of youth in Japan as some claim the high consumption of seaweed contributes to the county’s super low incidence of diseases.
I bet your thinking, “That’s great Dana, but I haven’t got the foggiest idea what to do with it.” My best suggestion is to get local herbalist Vivi Tallman’s Seaweed Sprinkles” and sprinkle it on everything. (Her number is 503-368-8255 and she also sells at farmers markets in the area) I love the stuff and find it easy to use. You can also pulverize nori sheets in a blender and put it on the table with the salt and pepper. You’ll find yourself reaching for it a lot!
Also familiarize yourself with the seaweeds of the world and its culinary uses. (I found it interesting that there is not any known poisonous seaweed to humans and it is located in all oceans.) Start finding ways of incorporating it into your cooking. Get playful and curious here, it will pay off!
I decided to do just that and have been playing with many types of seaweed in the kitchen. I started making dashi, which is a Japanese soup stock made with kombu seaweed (which is kelp, yup, kelp). It is the base of many Japanese’s dishes. I also made a fish soup out of the dashi that was wonderful! Have fun playing with your (sea) veggies!
Chawan Mushi with shrimp and spring peas
Chawamnushi is a Japanese custard steamed in a cup. Chawan means tea cups or rice bowls, and mushi means steaming in Japanese. Simple enough and amazingly delicate and addictive.
1.5 cups of dashi or chicken stock
1 tablespoon of sake(or use a white wine)
A pinch of sugar
2 teaspoons of low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon of sesame oil
1 tablespoon of finely grated fresh ginger root
3 large eggs
1/2 cup of fresh shelled peas
OR 1/2 cup of frozen peas
OR 1 cup of chopped fresh pea pods
3/4 cup of baby shrimp, cooked
1/2 cup of chopped shitake mushrooms
2 green onions, thinly sliced
Pick out 4 small heat proof bowls of ramekins to make your Chawan Mushi and turn on the oven to 375 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl, combine dashi stock, 1 tablespoon of sake and sugar in a bowl and stir till the sugar is dissolved. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil and the ginger and mix some more. Measure out 4 tablespoons of this mix into a small cup and set it aside for now.
Gently whisk the eggs up in a bowl. Do this so gently that you do not create any bubbles in it. Gently stir the bulk of the dashi mixture into the eggs. Divide the peas, shrimp, mushrooms and green onions among your four ramekins, saving out some for garnishes. Pour the egg mixture over the veggie-shrimp mixture.
Get out a rectangle glass baking dish (9×13 works) and set the ramekins in there. Set in the oven and fill the baking dish with water till is about halfway of the ramekins. Bake at 375 for 5 minutes then turn the heat down to 325 and bake for 25 minutes and check for doneness. The custard is set when it is still quite jiggly and if you poke it with a toothpick or knife it produced clear dashi like fuild. If it isn’t quite done yet, keep baking and checking every 5 minutes so you don’t overcook it. Garnish with the saved veggies and shrimp then add one tablespoon per ramekin of the reserved dashi mix and serve up with a smile.
How to make Dana Dashi
This is Dana Dashi, other words, not traditional. If you want traditional, remove the ginger and add bonito flakes. You can get the kombu and other sea veggies at Mother nature’s and bonito flakes at an Asian store in Portland or order online.
A 4 inch square piece of kombu (or there abouts)
A piece of fresh ginger, about the size of two fingers, cut into thin slices.
6-8 shitake mushrooms, sliced
1 quart of water
Get out a nice stainless steel pot and place the kombu, mushrooms and ginger in it. Cover with the water and soak for 30 minutes. (No heat) Set the saucepan over mediumish heat until the water just starts to boil. Remove the seaweed and keep the ginger in it and simmer for about 10-15 minutes. When it is cool, pour the liquid through a fine mesh strainer or 2 layers of cheesecloth and into a bowl. Ta daaa! You have Dana dashi. That wasn’t hard, was it? Store it in the fridge for up to 1 week. Compost the strained out stuff.