Seaweed as a cook's ingredient has come a long way in the two years that have passed since I sent in a book proposal. Living on an Outer Hebridean Isle, where in the words of my publisher, seaweed runs amok, means that it is not surprising that I choose to experiment with sea vegetables over terrestrial ones. At times, my home-grown earthy vegetables have a very good chance of being blown out into the Atlantic by powerful gales and the produce on offer in my local supermarket is, during bouts of inclement weather, often delayed on ferryboats. Weather aside, the Hebridean infrastructure is fragile at its best and does little to enhance the appearance of any mainland grown fresh product, never mind consideration of its effect on nutrients.
This weekend a brother in law and I fed seaweed to my elderly mother in law.The food on offer by the nursing home had been declined and yet after a little coaxing, my ma in law cleared her plates of food. Seaweed was the secret ingredient in most of the courses.
Over the years I've noticed that my mother in law added extra salt to any food that I prepared. I gather that additional salt, coupled with an increased liking for sugar is commonplace in the preferred taste of many older people.I'd like to suggest that seaweed, which is lower in sodium than salt, might be a useful 'sprinkle' for Nursing Homes to consider. The barrier will of course be budget because the seaweed sprinkles (now available in Marks and Spencer nationwide) are expensive. Hopefully with the passing of time and future harvesting and drying research, seaweed prices will lower, thus making it a more accessible ingredient. So what you may ask, did my mother in law eat: homemade Jersey potato and leek soup, seaweed bread, avocado and a rhubarb and sugar kelp custard tart - I cook with seaweed as most folk use herbs and spices but I also use seaweed as a vegetable too.
Vraic (from the Jersey French word for seaweed) is used in the manure in which Jersey potatoes are grown and so adding seaweed to potato salads or as flavouring, is to my mind, a very natural progression. I always add a good pinch of kelp (kombu) to my stocks, in much the way that the Japanese use it in dashi. I have a live seaweed sourdough starter on the go but when time is short, I simply add a good handful of dried laver (nori) or dulse to my traditional 'yeast' bread recipe. My mother in law's bread was flavoured with dried laver, which to my palate is one of the milder species of seaweed.The avocado was unadulterated but when I mash avocado in sandwiches, I usually mix in some dried laver or for extra punch, pepper dulse or sea lettuce. Sugar kelp (kombu royale) as the name suggests is sweet. I used it in the custard of the rhubarb tart. It is a freely available (to coastal folk) replacement for vanilla. I also added a good pinch of sugar kelp to the shortcrust pastry.
Seaweed in the Kitchen will be published by Prospect Books and includes recipes that use seaweed as a vegetable in much the way that we cook with terrestrial vegetables but there are plenty of 'sprinkling' ideas too. Mara Seaweed is on sale in Marks and Spencer but there are other UK producers to consider: The Cornish Seaweed Company, Just Seaweed, Ocean Harvest Jersey, Atlantic Kitchen and The Pembrokeshire Beach Food Company to name but five.
Dulse is included in the list of Britain's forgotten food in The Ark of Taste but carrageen, another red seaweed is still eaten by the elderly and infirm on many Hebridean Islands. We need to encourage the young to consider seaweed, albeit once a poverty ingredient and then to share the idea with their grandparents - ideally before those in the know ask for carrageen.