Eat Up Your Greens : Seaweed

Welsh Breakfast with seaweed

Now put down that broccoli and step away from the peas;  pop on your wellies, grab your bucket and spade (not really necessary) and get down to the beach;  as we prepare to delight in the wonders of seaweed.

Admittedly seaweed won’t win any beauty contests and it does carry a reputation for being slimy, however, seaweed has some health benefits that are hard to get from foods that grow on land for example a healthy serving of seaweed contains more iron than a sirloin steak.  Now before you cry the steak will be tastier, seaweed can be a delicate treat for the taste-buds when prepared correctly; so don’t just assume that it’s going to be peculiar or as delicious as a decaying cucumber. Simmered into a savoury broth or made into an energising smoothie are just some of the quick ways you can enjoy your seaweed and get a real health boost.

With an unusually high proportion of protein seaweed is also richer in essential vitamins and micronutrients than any other food group. A prime source of bodybuilding minerals such as iodine and potassium, this is the food of real-life Popeye’s.  It is also the only plant source of vitamin B12, which is necessary for the production of red blood cells, and which can sometimes lack in meat-free diets so,  in short, seaweed is one of those raved about super foods, but before you start muttering about faddy health trends the health benefits of seaweed have been known for centuries.

Scientists have long believed that iodine-rich algae’s such as seaweed play a role in reducing the risks of cancer and other disease.  According to some recent research seaweed also contains a host of bioactive substances proven to lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, promote healthy digestion and even tackle the free radicals that can cause cancer.

The most common form of seaweed, is nori and whilst you might associate it with hand-rolled sushi, but it is closely related to laver seaweed and  it can be used for a variety of recipes and can be found growing around the British Coastline. Laver, is a delicate but in its raw state inedible seaweed, that needs to be boiled for 10 hours to release its truly amazing savoury, slightly salty, fishy flavour. Rich in glutamates, laver is one of the ingredients of umami and an absolute must for the creation of a true Celtic breakfast. Once cooked, it can be used in soups and fish stews, or made into traditional Welsh laverbread oatcakes that then get fried in bacon fat and served with cockles.

If you don’t have a spare ten hours to boil up so laver seaweed then Parson’s Pickles produce amongst other things laver seaweed in a tin.  The laver seaweed sold by Parson’s Pickles is that which is found on the western coast of the British Isles, growing on beaches where rocks are embedded in sand. It is harvested by The Penclawdd Shellfish Processing  Company which is no easy task as laver attaches itself to the rocks by a ‘hold-fast’ making it laborious to collect.

After picking it is washed thoroughly to remove the sand then cooked before being minced to make a smooth, pate type texture. Traditionally the seaweed was collected and hand-washed before being cooked in boiling pans over coal fires;  although today the process is done using  very latest boiling pans and technology, using gas heating, the method of cooking is basically the same.

 

A true Welsh Breakfast

  • Laverbread, bacon and cockles.

For four people or two very hungry ones

Ingredients

225g  ready-prepared laver seaweed

50g fine oatmeal

225g  picked cockle meat, cooked

25g  unsalted butter

1 leek, finely chopped

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp freshly chopped flat leaf parsley

50g bacon fat

8 smoked bacon rashers, fried until crisp, to serve

Ground black pepper to taste

 

In a bowl, mix together the laver seaweed, lemon juice, fresh parsley  and oatmeal until well combined. Season, to taste, with freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a frying pan until foaming, then add the leek and fry for 3-4 minutes, or until softened. Add the cockle meat and cook for a further 1-2 minutes, or until heated through.

Take golf ball sized pieces of laverbread mixture and roll into balls. Flatten the balls slightly to make small patties.

In a separate pan, heat the bacon fat over a medium heat. Fry the laverbread patties, in small batches, for 2-3 minutes on both sides or until golden-brown all over.

To serve, divide the laverbread amongst four serving plates and spoon over the cockles and leeks. Top each serving with two slices of bacon.  If you want to be super indulgent top it all off with a poached egg.

 

If you are a lover of traditional foods and feeling squeamish about eating green, slimy things or struggle with getting greens into little tummies then my mash potato is a must for you.

Seren’s Seaweed Bubble and Squeak

Bubble and Squeak with Seaweed

500g Mashed  Potato

225g  Laverbread (prepared and cooked)

30g unsalted Butter

Juice of Half a Lemon

1 egg yolk

100g grated cheddar

Salt & Pepper to season

Method

 

Peel and mash the potatoes in unsalted water, once cooked, drain and mash with the butter. Beat in the egg yolk and seaweed. Stir in the grated cheese and season to taste. Serve immediately.

Seaweed Smoothie

Seaweed and Strawberry

Strawberries are rich in vitamins and minerals. They have diuretic, purifying and detoxifying properties. In addition, red fruits are recommended and benefitial for asthma and allergy problems, add this to all the fabulous mineral qualities of seaweed and we have a smoothie that is a powerful tonic that will allow us to eliminate accumulated toxins due to excesses and start the day full of energy

 

Ingredients:

 

5 Strawberries, hulled

1 tea cup of rice, oats or almonds milk

1 tablespoon of cooked seaweed (I use laver)

1 twist of lemon

Pinch sea salt

Preparation:

 

Cut the strawberries into pieces, add a pinch of sea salt and let it marinate for 20 minutes.

Mix rice, almond or oats milk with the strawberries in a liquidiser.

Add the seaweed and lemon and liquidise again.

Serve over ice

The Green Goddess

 

1 frozen banana peeled and chopped

¼ pineapple including core chopped

300ml cold water

2 tablespoons of lava seaweed

2 tsp local honey

 

Method:

 

Put everything in the blender and blend until smooth, pour into a glass and enjoy immediately.

With such evident health benefits it makes us wonder why don’t we cook with seaweed more? After all it is a bountiful, natural resource, growing freely on rocks around our coastline. Dried seaweed is available in oriental groceries and health food shops or for a fresh taste of the sea Iain McKellar runs JustSeaweed.com, Britain’s only fresh seaweed store, selling rock-grown algae’s cut from the waters off the Isle of Bute. Iain is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to seaweed and if you don’t fancy picking your won but want to cook with fresh his company offers a great way of sampling different fresh seaweeds.

Indeed there is even a café dedicated to seaweed, café Mo︢R is a little street food outlet at Freshwater Beach in South Pembrokeshire.  Serving up delicacies including Welshman’s Caviar and Mermaid biscuits, as well as fresh crab and sea vegetables. They run all sorts of seashore foraging courses and even beach picnics. You can find out more at their website at www.beachfood.co.uk

Unlike mushroom-picking, which can have unpleasant, even fatal, consequences you’ll come to no harm with seaweed.  Although not all the varieties are tasty, none will do you any harm.

 

Top Tips for Foraging your own Seaweed

 

  1. Look for a remote stretch of coast that is far from sewerage outfall buoys & mouths of estuaries should be avoided
  2. Look for healthy looking plants that are still attached to the rocks
  3. Never collect washed-up or floating seaweed as it can have started to decompose and could be toxic
  4. Take a pair of good, sharp scissors with you as they can be good for snipping off the top section of the plant
  5. Only take what you need
  6. Take a small bucket or bag – I find a bucket is best as it prevents seawater leakage on the way home
  7. Once collected it will need washing in clean, fresh water at least three times before cooking
  8. With the exception of lava seaweed most seaweed only needs light steaming

 

Seren’s Guide to Seaweeds to forage for around Britain

Pelvetia (channel wrack)

  • Leafy, fronded algae that holds its finger shape when “cooked” – to prepare, simply rinse through with boiling water and serve as an alternative to cabbage.

Broad kelp

  • A thick and meaty variety that looks like pasta ribbons and requires soaking to reduce its salt content, and a thorough boiling to make it edible. Great as a stand-alone side vegetable, chopped into chunks in soups, or baked in a very hot oven into delicious crispy strips.

Purple laver

  • With a distinctive flavour like olives and oysters, this smooth and fine variety boils down to a dark green pulp – perfect for making into laver bread, the traditional Welsh dish.

Sea lettuce

  • Bright green algae found in rock pools. With a strong flavour similar to sorrel, it can be added to salads, or pressed and dried into crispy green sheets used to wrap Japanese nori rolls.

Cordia filia (sea spaghetti)

  • Grows in billowing strands in deep waters, so you’ll need more than a snorkel to harvest your own. When boiled, it has a crispy bite and the texture of beansprouts. It’s green, slimy and something few of us would consider putting in our mouths. But, following a string of recent scientific studies into the benefits of seaweed, it could soon be replacing superfood side-dishes such as kale and broccoli.

With seaweed being excellent for your mind, body and even your skin; there is no better time to eat up your greens. So get some seaweed on the dining table and explore the different varieties and health-giving properties. Bon appetite!