Sea vegetables, also commonly referred to as seaweed, are types of algae that grow in bodies of water and can be consumed as food. They are a major ingredient in Asian cuisine but are not as widely consumed in the cuisines of other cultures. Different varieties of the vegetables may vary significantly in flavor, ranging from very mild to extremely salty. Although they are considered by many to contain nutrients that can help prevent cancer, this claim has not been conclusively proven. While there are sea vegetable supplements on the market, the vegetables themselves can be cooked and used in a variety of dishes, as well as eaten as a snack.
When cooking with sea vegetables, it is generally recommended to reduce the total amount of salt used in the recipe. When using a particularly salty variety, such as dulse, any additional salt may be left out completely. The vegetables are thought to pair well with a range of flavors, such as soy sauce, ginger, citrus, chicken, tofu, mushrooms, and cabbage.
Since the majority of commercially available sea vegetable products are sold dried, they must be rehydrated prior to using them in dishes. They are typically sold in sheets that can be cut into thin strips before using. The exact amount of of rehydrating time needed and amount of water to be used varies depending on the type of sea vegetables being used because some are thicker and take longer to soften than others. For example, kombu seaweed may take up to 15 minutes to hydrate, while wakame tends to be quicker, requiring approximately five minutes.
One of the most common ways to cook with sea vegetables is to use them as an ingredient in soups and broth-based noodle dishes. Once the vegetables are rehydrated according to their package directions, they can be simmered in soup with the other preferred ingredients for the last 20 minutes or so to infuse the flavors of the seaweed into the soup. For broth-based noodle dishes, such as udon noodles, a rehydrated sea vegetable may be tossed with the cooked noodles and other ingredients just prior to serving. They may also be added to stir fries or mixed with other vegetables and protein as a side salad.
Sea vegetables may also be used as garnishes, rather than being incorporated as a main ingredient. The rehydrated strips can be chopped or crumbled atop soups, salads, or other dishes to add a salty flavor. Dried sea vegetable flakes or powders may be sprinkled on dishes and used as a substitute or accompaniment for other seasonings.