I wouldn’t have discovered sea plants if it weren’t for Ester. I was traveling for work, and coincidentally stumbled upon her. She was working her magic, whipping coconut butter and mushroom coffee into a frothy concoction; slicing an omelet of foraged, wild mushrooms into generous portions; then scooping mounds of a black, stringy vegetable salad loaded with lotus root and avocado I couldn’t recognize from an enormous bowl. She energetically answered all questions, standing behind her beautifully prepared, not very typical, yet amazingly delicious food; everything so fresh it simultaneously smelled like the ocean and the forest.
Ester and I had met over year ago while at Burning Man. We were staying in the same Camp and bonded over veggie chips and cherry soup. Finding her in Utah was a godsend. If you’ve been to Burning Man you know how magical it is to randomly meet up with those that shared their time with you in the dessert. Perched atop of a beautiful mountain on a crisp Fall day, I was taken back to the dusty Burning Man days of Ester’s delicious cooking. I eventually worked up my way to taste both her vegan bulletproof mushroom coffee (her own blend!) and the black salad of Arame and Lotus Root. I fell in love.
After months of testing and a cryptic emails from the chef herself, I figured out a recipe that though not exact to hers, tastes magnificent. Soon after I dove into the world of sea plants and discovered the power of umami via way of the sea.
Over the next couple of weeks we are diving deep to discover why sea plants are so dam good. Beyond their nutritional value (fiber, protein, and lots of iron), sea plants come in a slew of different varieties, each containing its unique properties, textures, and flavors. Through these recipes I am going to try to convince to eat more of them. Are you up for the challenge? You weren’t born loving coffee (or wine for that matter), so, why not try something new? Take that for a New Year’s Resolution!
Jet black and shredded into strands, this varietal is mild and sweet.
If you have eaten miso soup, you know kombu as it is one of the two ingredients used to make dashi, a bonito flake and kombu broth and base to the loved miso soup. Rich in umani, kombu is best when used to make broths as it turns bitter quickly.
This stuff we know. Wrapped around every maki and hand roll you have ever eaten, Nori is mild, yet briny and earthy. When ground and used like a spice, nori adds umami and lots of character.
The bacon on the sea? Now that I have your attention, read this.
If you go to any Japanese restaurant, you will most likely find a type of seaweed salad. This kind is bright green, almost neon, and way too sweet. While fun to look at, the flavor is overpower by too much salt and sugar. This type of seaweed salad tastes nothing like the ocean. Esther’s seaweed salad on the other hand is rich and complex. Arame’s mild ocean flavor sets to tone to the harmonious yet contrasting flavors of soy sauce, sesame, and ginger. Complex and full of flavor each bite starts salty, then shift to a mouth watering tanginess, spice, and finally sweet. Almost chewy, but also crunchy and each bite is fun to eat. A wild combination of flavors you are more than familiar with, yet delighted to discover through this brilliant salad. If you happen to live in a city with access to an Asian grocery store, buy raw lotus root, cook it and add it in. It is a bit difficult to find but can be easily replaced with thinly sliced radishes or shredded carrots. Their main function is to add crunch to every other bite.
Ester’s Arame Seaweed Salad
Makes about 3 cups, serves 5-6
- 1 4” piece fresh lotus root, optional. (could replace with raw carrots or radishes)
- 1 2oz. bag dried arame
- ½ tbsp. grated fresh ginger, fron 1 ½ inch knob
- 1 clove garlic, grated
- 4 tbsp. tamari
- 4 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
- 2 heaping tbsp.. black or white sesame seeds
- 1 handful fresh cilantro
- 3 green onions
- If you are using the lotus root, lets start by preperaing it. Peel the skin off, then slice into thin slices, about ¼” thick. Place in a pot with water and cook for seven to ten minutes. Remove from heat, drain, and rinse under cold running water. Set aside until ready to use.
- As the lotus root cooks, empty a 2 oz bag of arame into a small pot. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for ten minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water.
- To prepare the dressing, grate fresh ginger and a garlic clove into a small bowl. I like to use a micro planer to do so. Whisk in tamari, vinegar, and sesame oil. Add sesame seeds, cilantro, and green onions.
- Place arame and lotus root in a large bowl. Pour dressing over vegetables and toss until evenly distributed. Refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to serve.
- Serve by itself, or with a fried egg and avocado. It is perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.