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Sea Vegetables

Recently, my wife and I happened upon a television program called Will Work for Food. True to the title, the host does the work to earn a taste of whatever the theme of the show may be. On this particular episode he was at an abalone farm. He started from square one, feeding the abalone. The abalones subsisted on what the farmer called a “dulse smoothie,” which is salt water and dulse blended into a frothy, salty meal. The abalone eat the smoothie during their entire six or more years at the farm. What these little abalone don’t know is they subsist on one of nature’s power foods: sea vegetables.

There are thousands of species of all types of sea vegetables (commonly known as algae), though not all are edible by humans. They can be broken into three classifications: brown, red and green, and can be grown in fresh and salt water. Their versatility makes them a staple food in several countries, and they have played a vital role in the lives of people worldwide since the 8th century. China leads the way in the consumption of over 70 varieties, and they are now gaining popularity in North America.

Sea vegetables are a good source of vitamins and minerals (calcium, iron, and potassium, to name a few). They also provide fiber, protein, and enzymes. Research suggests they can help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, inhibit tumor growth, and may have anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties. There is also extensive study on their ability to absorb heavy metal contaminants and radioactive elements from our bodies.

Nori, once a blanket term for edible red algae, is now most recognizable in sheet form. These nutrient-rich sheets are used to wrap sushi products across the globe. Over 600 square miles of Japan’s coastline is dedicated to the production of this iron-rich variety.

Another popular red algae is dulse. First harvested 1,400 years ago by St. Columba’s monks, its ability to increase mass by eight percent each day makes it a stable source for all trace elements people need, such as boron, chromium, fluorine, and cobalt, as well as more well-known elements like iron and iodine. While each element has its individual benefits, they work together to help your body maintain proper metabolic function.

With over 300 varieties, kelp grows in vast forests in the sea, with kombu being the most widely-known edible variety of kelp. This iodine-rich plant can be used to add flavor soups or as a side dish with rice.

The Willy Street Co-op sells the most popular sea vegetables, including dulse, kelp, hijiki, nori, agar, and spirulina. They can be found at the far end of aisle 3, with the exceptions of agar, which is found in the bulk spice section, and spirulina, which is in the Wellness section.
Maine Coast, out of Franklin, Maine, produces the majority of the sea vegetables we sell. In 1993, when the first organic standards for sea vegetables were set, Maine Coast started monitoring beds for sustainability. This included keeping freshly picked plants clear of possible contaminants throughout the entire harvesting process, and to testing for unseen waterborne contaminants.

With a new look into the vast world of sea vegetables, I went on a search for a recipe to try adding a new flavor to my palate. I went for one of my favorite sources for new recipes—the Post Punk Kitchen (, authors of Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook. I’m not vegan but this site always delivers. I decided on Spicy Tempeh Rolls. I won’t spoil the delicious surprise these rolls deliver, but I will tell you they are well worth breaking out the sushi-rolling mat.

prep time: 30 minutes
cooking time: 10 minutes once rice is prepared
makes 4 rolls
Bamboo sushi rolling mat
Really sharp serrated knife
Rice cooker or pot for rice
Large preferably glass bowl to cool rice down in
Small saute pan
Tongs, if you are going to be roasting the nori
For the rice

  • 1 c. sushi rice made with 1 1/4 cup water, prepared according to package directions

  • About 2 Tbs. Rice vinegar (do not use regular or any other kind!)

  • 1 tsp. sugar

  • 4 sheets nori*

For the filling

  • 1/2 package tempeh (4 oz)

  • 1/4 tsp. sesame hot chili oil or to taste

  • 1 1/2 Tbs. vegan mayo

  • 1 green scallion, white part removed, sliced lengthwise into narrow strips

  • 1 Tbs. black sesame seeds if put inside of roll, or 1/4 cup if used as coating for “inside-out”

Directions: For the rice: Prepare rice according to package instructions. It should be something like 1 1/4 cup water to 1 cup rice. Cook until rice is tender but firm, even a little dry.

Empty hot rice into a large glass bowl. Sprinkle with rice vinegar and 1 tsp. sugar. Fold rice gently with a large spoon or rice paddle. Rice should be moist and have a mild vinegar flavor. Cover with plastic wrap. When rice is slightly warmer than room temperature it’s ready to work with.
Meanwhile prepare the filling: Cover and steam tempeh in a small saute pan with enough water to cover it until tender and not bitter (about 10 minutes). Mash with mayo and sesame chili oil to taste. Layer with scallion, sprinkle with sesame, or make inside out roll for extra flair.
*If you like, use a pair of tongs to roast the nori sheets over the oven flame for 2-3 seconds.