Vegetables from the Sea by Jill Gusman 

144 pages; Black and white, illustrations. Reviewed from a publishers proof copy.

Published by William Morrow & Co (05/01/2003)

Reviewed by Lisa Skehan for Good Cooking, Spring/Summer 2004

Grab your snorkel and fins and get ready to dive deep into Vegetables from the Sea!
I will admit that not too long ago I was not a big fan of the thought of eating edible seaweed. After all, seaweed is something you avoid while swimming in the ocean so not to be grossed out when those slimy leaves get washed ashore, sneaking up on you and clinging onto any body part it can. Well, that was until I got up the courage to eat at my first Japanese restaurant a few years ago and ordered spicy tuna rolls. Now, I am a spicy tuna roll junkie. I can’t get enough of the seasoned rice and fresh tuna with a secret spicy sauce rolled tightly in seaweed. Yes, that’s right--seaweed. I even find seaweed salad a delight these days. I guess being adventurous worked in my favor this time. 

Now that I am completely over my seaweed phobia, I couldn’t wait to read Vegetables from the Sea to find out more about these sea treasures. Anyone interested in reading an "everything you must know" about edible seaweed, will find Vegetables from the Sea a perfect resource for just that. It covers everything from the history of seaweed, the different varieties in detail, how it is harvested, how to purchase and store, the nutritional values and how to cook with all varieties of seaweed. 

The book itself is easy reading with many recipes at the end of the book. Recipes are separated into categories of soups, salads, appetizers, entrees and desserts. At the end is a great reference to mail order sources for purchasing top quality seaweed used for cooking. The author does a great job in providing recipes for the novice seaweed consumer as well as for a more advanced consumer, along with easier to make recipes to more difficult recipes to follow. Another reason why I liked this book was that the ingredients for all the recipes were every day ingredients you can find in any grocery store or Asian markets such as Boston's Super 88, with the exception of the seaweed itself. For the more unique varieties your local Japanese grocer should have them. Being a novice in cooking with seaweed, I decided to try a few recipes that were not too complex to prepare. 

The first recipe I made was for Classic Miso Soup:

Makes 4 servings 

5 dried shiitakes
4-inch strip wakame
1 onion 
1 carrot
2 tablespoons white miso 
½ pound silken tofu 
3-inch piece ginger or
1 tablespoon ginger juice
¼ cup chopped scallions

1. Lightly rinse the mushrooms under warm running water for 10 seconds. Soak them in 1 cup warm water until soft, about 15 minutes. Drain, cut off the tough stems, and slice the mushrooms thinly. Place the mushrooms, wakame, onion, and carrot in a Dutch oven or soup pot with 7 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
2. Place the miso in a small bowl and add ¼ cup of the broth from the vegetables. Using a fork, stir the miso and broth until the mixture is a smooth paste. Add the miso and tofu to the pot.
3. Grate the ginger on a fine grater. Squeeze the ginger pulp in the palm of your hand to extract the juice (discard the pulp). Add the juice to the pot. Stir and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve garnished with the scallions.


The second recipe I tried was a Lemongrass-Shrimp-Rice Soup:

Makes 4 servings

2 stalks lemongrass
¾ cup lightly packed arame
¾ pound small shrimp 
6-inch piece fresh ginger or
1/3 cup ginger juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons coconut oil
3 shallots
1 rib celery 
½ cup cooked basmati rice
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
3 Napa cabbage leaves
¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro
5 scallions

1. Trim any tough or wilted outer leaves off the lemongrass. Cut the stalks into 4-inch lengths and smash lightly with the flat side of a knife. Set aside.
2. Rinse the arame in a bowl of cook water for 5 seconds and drain well. Cover with cool water and soak for 10 minutes. Lift out the arame with your hands and set aside.
3. Place the shrimp in a bowl. Grate the ginger with a fine grater into another bowl. Squeeze the juice out of the pulp with your hands over the shrimp. Add the lemon juice and toss well. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
4. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat for 15 seconds. Add the lemongrass, shallots, celery, and arame. Stir for 2 to 3 minutes, coating the vegetables with oil, until the shallots are lightly browned.
5. Pour in 5 cups of water, the rice and salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the water is slightly starchy from the rice. Using tongs, remove the lemongrass and discard. Add the marinated shrimp with their juice and the cabbage and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the shrimp are pink and the cabbage leaves have wilted. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cilantro. Ladle the soup into the serving bowls and garnish with scallions.

The third and final recipe I tried was Nori-Wrapped Sole:

Makes 4 servings

2 ½ pounds lemon sole fillets
¼ cup lemon juice
¾ tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon sea salt
9 sheets toasted nori
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
4 lemon wedges

1. Place fillet squares side by side in a long baking pan. Pour the lemon juice on top and sprinkle with the thyme and the salt. Marinate for 15 minutes.
2. Place a strip of nori on a cutting board. Put a fish square on the end of the nori closest to you. Quickly roll up the fish in the nori until you reach the end of the strip. Set the roll seam side down on a large plate. Repeat for each piece of fish.
3. Heat the oil and butter on low heat fro 20 seconds. Put 7 or 8 pieces of fish in the oil, seam side down. (Placing them seam side down helps the nori stick and form a tight seal.) Cook gently on low heat for 5 minutes, until the nori on the bottom is dark green-black and crispy. Flip it over with the spatula. Cover the skillet for 3 minutes to finish the cooking. The fish bundles will puff up slightly and the nori will look taut. Drain briefly on paper towels. Serve with a slight sprinkle of sea salt and a lemon wedge.

All recipes were easy to make and delicious! The only problem I had was identifying the types of seaweed sold in the grocery store and when I asked for assistance in identifying which was the wakame and which was the arame, no one seemed to know either. So I’m hoping I used the right choices going from the book’s pictures and reference for my recipes.

In addition to the above three recipes, you can find more recipes using edible seaweed for some everyday dishes. There’s arame-suffed eggplants, smoked dulce and goat cheese salad, sea vegetable caesar salad, sea palm chicken salad with roasted garlic, sweet arame over baby artichokes, and crispy rice treats to name a few. 

Whatever your taste may be, I’m sure you can find a recipe to add edible seaweed to in this book. Enjoy!