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Seaweed salad is a salad made from strips of wilted seaweed, rice vinegar, herbs, and spices. Traditionally an Asian dish, it has gained popularity across Europe and North America as a very healthy, tasty side dish or snack. Many kinds of seaweed are rife with vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. It also reportedly contains enzymes that improve hair and skin health, in addition to giving the immune system a boost.
There are a few different versions of seaweed salad, but most of them have a predominantly tangy, pickled flavor that is most often attributed to rice vinegar. This is a very mild-tasting vinegar that is clear in color. It typically gives seaweed salad its signature sheen. The strands of seaweed in these salads almost always look like coiled strands of green spaghetti. Soy sauce may replace rice vinegar in a pinch, but is usually added in small amounts so the consumer can still taste the seaweed itself.
Mushrooms, black and white sesame seeds, hot pepper flakes, and rice may all make an appearance in seaweed salad. Most popular are black and white sesame seeds. Some recipes contain both colors and some call for just one. Both kinds of seeds lend a crunchy texture and sharp, nutty flavor to the salad that often balances the tang from the vinegar. Mushrooms also cut through this acidity, and give the seaweed salad a rich, meaty undertone. Portobello, shitake, and wild truffles are all flavorful additions to this dish.
When rice is included in seaweed salad, it is often set to the side or serves as a stage for the salad itself. White sticky rice is most often seen, but jasmine, brown, wild, and basmati may also be used. Pork-fried rice may also be served with this salad, but some feel the strong flavors of the pork and seaweed don’t mingle well. Typically, very mild, plain rice works best.
Those preparing seaweed salad at home must first snip wakame or nori seaweed sheets into thin strips with kitchen scissors. Soaking the strips in warm water for about 15 minutes softens them and makes them pliable. The strips must then be drained and placed in a bowl with three or four healthy splashes of rice vinegar and a drizzle of soy sauce. The seaweed should rest in this mixture for 20 to 30 minutes.
Many cooks like to spice up their seaweed salad with ginger, hot pepper flakes, cilantro, and garlic. Some even like to add a sprinkling of sugar to tame the acidity of the dish. This salad works as a meal on its own, but may also be eaten with chicken, fish, udon noodles, or many styles of sushi.