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Sea Vegetables, Part 1

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Vegetables and Vegetarian Foods

Fall Volume: 2015 Issue: 22(3) pages: 28 to 29

Emperor Shen Nong, the earliest known practitioner of medicine, is said to have used plants from the sea and those very close to it for both food and medicine. This was circa 3000 BCE.

Later, in The Book of Songs, about 8000 BCE, a housewife was depicted cooking with them. In the Er Ya, the oldest known Chinese encyclopedia that is dated about 300 BCE, they speak of twelve different ones. About that time, use of laver, kelp, and agar are among those sent to the Imperial Court recommending their medicinal uses.

Long ago, before and after the above, sea vegetables were gathered and dried as a means of collecting salt. They were dried and re-dried again and again, then burned many times, the ashes used after boiling and evaporating them. The remainder had lots of salt often mixed with smaller amounts of minerals used for healing. The Chinese were not alone in so doing, the Vikings, Aztecs, and other early peoples did similar things. Modern science confirms the efficacy of using these ashes for health treatments. It has developed and used newer cures that include dulse, laver, and kombu for various inflammations. These were used as anti-scorbutics and for warts and other soft and hard swellings, and for circulatory and feminine ailments, pus-producing problems, and seasickness, among other ailments.

Kelp has a long history of aiding treatments for cuts, stings, sprains, and bruises, and for other uses such as surgical dressings, and for minor ailments such as a bitten tongue as can chewing on nori, agal mucilages, and for heartburn. The Scripps Oceanographic Institute has recommended a sea vegetable diet to prevent or at least reduce hay fever. These vegetables do have up to thirty percent protein and fat-soluble vitamins in large supply, and they have Vitamin B12. Therefore, they can be helpful for many things including have high levels of ergosterol which is considered a pro-vitamin D said to be converted to this vitamin in the human body. We do know that seaweed oil contains hundreds if not thousands times more vitamins A and D than does cod liver oil. It and other sea plants also contain calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. These are vitamins we all need for good bones, strong teeth, and the transmission of nerves, as well as for good digestion. Also, some inhibit the body’s absorption of radio-active elements, others like pectin bond with toxic metals then carrying them out of the human body.

Is this why Chinese farmers fertilize their sweet potatoes, coffee, coconuts, and peanuts with sargassum; or is it only for their help in building the soil they grow in? In the United States, there is growing interest in these and similar sea vegetables instead of using toxic pesticides? More of them are being used every year as is fa cai, the sea vegetable known as 'hair seaweed.'

Sea plants, all vegetables, have been purveyors of healing, and to the best of our knowledge, they do not cause harm nor do they have harmful side effects as many medicines do. We have discussed them in this magazine’s Volume 8(3) issue on pages 9, 10, and 30, and suggest you check into its information and its three recipes, for starters. There is at least one cookbook specializing in them; for that do check the book reviews index.

One sea vegetable the Chinese love is this one known as ‘hair seaweed’ which botanically is Gracilaria verrucosa. The Chinese know it as fa cai and when meeting a friend, you may hear them say, gong xi fa cai. To them, this sounds like wishing someone ‘prosperity,’ and so at New Year and other auspicious holidays, they say this, give some as gifts, and they do appreciate these wishes.

This and other popular sea vegetables such as those in the nori and laver groups which can be Ulva lactuca or Porphya umbilicalis, the kombu and kelps including Laminaria japonica or Laminaria digitata, or the brown or red algae whose botanical names can include Undaria pinnatifida, Palmaria palmata, or Chondrus crispus, among others, are ones but not the only ones popular used by the Chinese.

There are very few special recipes for these sea vegetables. The Chinese most often soak them until soft, then cut them, and add them in mixed vegetable or meat and vegetable dishes.
Seaweed Rolls
2 or 3 sheets of dried bean curd, soaked between wet towels
2 or 3 dried sea weed sheets called nori, wet between paper towels
2 large Chinese mushrooms, soaked, stems discarded, then cut into thin sticks, and fried for one minute, then drained on paper towels
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small thin cucumber, cut into thin sticks
1 carrot, peeled and cut into thin sticks
1 teaspoon to 1 Tablespoon red chili
½ teaspoon five-spice powder
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Spread bean curd sheets on a bamboo place mat and put a seaweed sheet on top.
2. Mix all vegetable sticks and put these together at the long end of them.
3. Mix chili, five-spice powder, and salt and pepper and sprinkle this on top of the vegetables, then roll tightly, and cut on an angle into four pieces.
4. Put some of these standing on end, others lying down, on a platter, refrigerate for an hour, then serve.
Agar Agar with Ham and Chicken
3 cups agar agar, softened one hour in tepid water
½ cup cooked smoked ham, cut in very thin strips
½ cup cooked chicken breast, cut into very thin strips
1 small seedless cucumber, cut into very thin strips
1 cup bean sprouts, tail ends removed
½ teaspoon chili-flavored sesame oil
3 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1. Mix agar agar, ham, chicken, and cucumber strips; add bean sprouts mix, and set aside.
2. Just before serving, mix chili-flavored and plain sesame oil and the soy sauce, and toss with the other ingredients, then serve.
Cod with Vegetables
1 to 2 pounds cod or rock cod fillets
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 sheets dried seaweed, cut into slivers
1 small onion, cut into wedges
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons Chinese brown sugar
4 scallions, cut thinly on an angle
½ red pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
½ green pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
2 slices fresh or canned pineapple, cut into cubes
1. Dry fish with paper towels, dust with salt and pepper, and set aside for ten minutes.
2. Heat oil in fry pan, then fry fish about three minutes per side, remove it, and set it aside in a warm oven. When ready for use, put the fish on a serving platter and bring it to the table.
3. Raise heat of the oil, and fry the seaweed for half minute in the oil, remove, and drain on paper towels.
4. Next, fry the onion pieces and when tan, remove them and do likewise.
5. In a small pot, bring vinegar, both sugars, scallions, and both peppers, and the pineapple to the boil. Reduce until half the amount of liquid remains. Then remove from the heat, add the onions and the pineapple and pour over the fish before sprinkling the seaweed on top. Serve.
Nori with Scallions
2 sheets nori (or kombu) stacked and then slivered
2 tablespoons thick soy jam
2 scallions, angle cut
1. Soak the nori or kombu in warm water for half an hour, then drain and dry somewhat.
2. Mix the seaweed with the soy jam and the scallion pieces and toss well.
3. Serve as soon as they are tossed.

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