Raising the umami bar are the seaweeds and sea vegetables you didn't know you needed in your life.
By
Farah Celjo

8 Aug 2018 - 9:45 AM  UPDATED 8 Aug 2018 - 4:16 PM

Do you eat sea vegetables? Edible sea veg comes in all shapes, colours and sizes and most are rich in vitamins and minerals. But beyond their nutritional value, they're also a very versatile ingredient to use at home. While not all sea vegetables are edible, the ones that are, have a unique texture, flavour and use. Kombu reigns supreme in homemade stocks and broths, nori is great for sushi, but also brings the crunch to salads and dulse, the umami-packed seaweed, is perfect in stews and braises. 

This week's Food Safari Water explores the endless opportunities of the treasures of the sea and that includes sea vegetables and wakame, which Maeve calls "the vegetable of the future". While there is a bounty to choose from, the problem is you might not know what to do with them and how easy they are to incorporate in your day-to-day cooking - so let us give you a taster of the sea greens that are bringing with them an umami string quartet.

Where to get them?
You don't have to be a beachcomber to get your hands on tasty sea herbs
Native seaside herbs and seaweeds bring intriguing flavours to your plate. But you don't have to wade the shores to taste this harvest.

Kombu

Kombu is a type of kelp, brown algae most commonly associated and eaten in Japanese cuisine. It comes fresh, eaten with sashimi, or dried, used in stocks and broths - and is an earthy and umami-flavour bomb. Add dried kombu to a pot of water with a bit of salt and pepper for a simple stock that kicks-off a saag tofu, incorporate a few more ingredients like mirin and tamari to make a tempura sauce, use it to give your homemade butter a punchy kick, for excellent sushi cook your rice with kombu then add rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt, or sit back and let it do all the talking in this crayfish miso thanks to a dashi kombu base - the possibilities are endless.

Wakame

If you've ever enjoyed a Japanese seaweed salad, then chances are you've devoured wakame. It is also a type of seaweed that is also common across Korean and Chinese cuisines and is flavourful, even on its own. When dry, wakame looks like long, thick brown shreds, similar to what you might find washed up on the beach. Once hydrated, it turns green and has a slightly chewier texture. For a next-level seaweed salad, try this wakame and octopus bowl or add it to tofu, chicken mince, sake and soy in this chakin with ginger broth.

Wakame and octopus salad

Nori

Anyone who’s eaten sushi knows nori. It comes roasted in thin, papery sheets and is the mildly-tempered child from the seaweed family. Scatter sliced nori sheets onto this adzuki bean, edamame and brown rice salad or on top of Adam Liaw's okonomipotato; crumble it over this kimchi fried rice; toast the sheets whole and place them in your bowls of pho; fill them with mushrooms and steam; or simply deep-fry them with sliced wonton wrappers to make Poh Ling Yeow's moreish nori chips

Here onigirazu channel everything you love about a sushi roll, only it’s a sandwich. Layers of spicy tuna, pickled radish and avocado are sandwiched with a mix of brown rice, quinoa and wild rice and wrapped in nori sheets. 

Onigirazu (tuna sushi sandwiches with pickled radish)

Hijiki

Hijiki is a dark brown seaweed that is harvested, dried, packaged then sold. It is earthy and slightly sweet in taste and when hydrated the flavour is similar to mushrooms. There are also two different varieties —nagahijiki, which is the stems, and mehijiki, the leaves. 

One of our favourite ways to eat this weed of the sea is in a dish of crab, brown rice and salmon roe, where the hijiki is simmered in a dashi stock and soy. 

Samphire

Also bearing a saltwater taste is the native succulent, samphire (known as sea asparagus, swamp grass and sea beans), found along the southern coastline of Australia. It's salty fresh in taste and crunchy in texture and it's best used raw, or cooked quickly through a sauté or wok-fry with shellfish and oyster saucepipis in Sri Lankan XO sauce, or in this Thai-style spaghetti vongole (pictured below). It works very well when paired with seafood, tossed through salads or as a native flavour infusion for your next party punch and according to Native Tastes Australia, if you need to reduce its saltiness, simply blanch for 30 – 45 seconds or soak for 1-2 hours, before plunging in ice water.

Dulse 

Dulse is a reddy-purple seaweed that is often shredded, dried, then sprinkled on soups and stews; when fresh, dulse can be sautéed with butter and garlic, or rubbed with olive oil and salt, and baked in the oven to make chips. Often called sea lettuce or sea parsley, according to British cookbook author, Gill Meller, "it is picked with abundance in the UK and is magnified ten-fold when cold-smoked…”. Dulse seaweed adds waves of intensity to this simple and slow-cooked shin of beef,  which calls on a smoked dulse powder or flakes in this hearty braise.

Maeve O'Meara is back in Food Safari Water 8pm, Wednesdays on SBS, or catch-up on all episodes via SBS On Demand. Visit the program page for recipes, videos and more. 

Eat your greens
Flat bread with greens (cassone verde)

Cut these ancient Italian flatbreads in half and serve with a crisp white wine. 

Breakfast greens, fried eggs and tahini

The seeds and nuts you have come to expect from your breakfast muesli take on a more savoury side, in Shane's greens and eggs breakfast fry-up. #RecipeForLife

Spring vegetable tempura

Here's how you can use an excellent tempura batter to lock in the magic of springtime vegetables - look out for the crunch! 

Eggplant and pumpkin green curry

An abundance of herbs makes this vegetable green curry really sing.

Fattoush salad with purslane, radish and homemade flatbread

This classic Lebanese salad, known as peasant's salad, is made with fresh vegetables and herbs with the addition of fried crispy day-old bread. I'm using my grandmother's recipe to make my flatbread from scratch.

Green tea dorayaki pancakes

Dorayaki makes a tasty teatime cake rather than after-dinner dessert. However, simply adding matcha to the cake batter – and serving with cream – gives you a smarter-looking dish more appropriate to a dessert course. I’ve provided a recipe for the adzuki bean paste, but you can purchase tinned cooked red bean paste from Japanese or Asian supermarkets.

Green grape, celery and walnut salad

This is a crunchy and crisp summer salad. The ingredients balance to give a little sweetness with some bitter and refreshing flavours, all rounded out with a nice amount of nuttiness.

The juicy side of a salty fruit
Pigface is a salty-sweet fruit with an awkward name, but it's all kinds of delicious.
Coconut agar-agar jellies (woon ga-ti)

Agar-agar is an ingredient derived from the cell wall of seaweed. It is used in cooking worldwide, but is especially popular in Asian sweets like this Thai dessert.