By Mari Nameshida / Special to The Japan NewsOn a map of the world at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where I now live, I recently saw a very interesting line written on the part showing Japan. It said, “Japanese people have special enzymes to help them digest seaweed, which North Americans lack.”
I thought anyone in the world could digest seaweed. After all, everybody now eats sushi. But unfortunately, only Japanese have these enzymes, which they acquired by eating bacteria that thrive on seaweed in the open ocean.
Yes, we’re the people who have been eating so much seaweed in daily life for centuries. In my cooking class, most of my students have never used such an ingredient in the kitchen before and were very confused about its varieties. We use kombu, wakame, nori, hijiki brown algae, mozuku noodle-like seaweed and many other kinds for cooking, and they all have different uses. We can’t use nori to make broth, for example, or use kombu to make sushi rolls.
I used to frequent a kombu store at the Tsukiji outer market to get kelp and other dried seaweeds, and I kept some kinds of kombu on hand to show them to my students and let them smell the differences. Kombu is kombu, but it is the same as wine: You can get various flavors depending on its quality or where it comes from. Some are carefully aged over 10 years and have an incredibly elegant flavor!
In the United States, people see wakame most often, especially in miso soup, so it’s becoming a well-known seaweed now. I think wakame is the easiest seaweed to add to your cooking because it doesn’t have a strong flavor. You will usually find it either dried or salted, and you simply need to soak it in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes for prep. You can use wakame for soup but also eat it as is.
The recipe for this installment is a cold appetizer with a miso mustard sauce. The sauce is a little sour because it includes vinegar, but it is also rich, as miso paste goes well with many kinds of vegetables and protein, as well as with seaweed like wakame.
For the sauce, I often use two to three ingredients, combining, for example, boiled squid or octopus, tuna sashimi or boiled chicken strips with green onion, broccoli rabe or cucumber. I like to use either brown miso or light brown miso for this sauce because red miso has too strong a flavor. The sauce can be kept in your refrigerator for one to two weeks.
By the way, Japanese mustard is far stronger than its European counterpart, so don’t put too much. You can enjoy a variety of seasonal delicacies with this delicious sauce.
Mari’s recipe for wakame with a miso mustard sauce
Ingredients (serves 4):
15 grams dried wakame seaweed
160 grams wakegi Welsh onions
200 grams sashimi-quality tuna
Pinch of salt
Miso mustard sauce:
1 tbsp sake
1½ tbsp sugar
2 tbsp miso (light brown recommended)
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp karashi Japanese mustard paste
1. Soak the wakame in a bowl for at least 10 minutes.
2. Cut the white and light green parts of wakegi from its dark green tops. Blanch the white and light green parts first for 30 seconds and then add the dark green tops to cook for a few more seconds. Drain, and fan them out to allow them to cool. Using the back of a knife, scrape out the gel-like substance from the inside of the onions. Cut them into 3- to 4-centimeter-long pieces.
3. Drain the wakame well and cut into 2- to 3-centimeter-long pieces. Dice the tuna into 1-centimeter pieces.
4. Combine the ingredients for the sauce, except for the karashi, in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the mustard paste.
5. Arrange the wakame, wakegi and diced tuna in individual serving bowls. Spoon the sauce into each bowl (see photo).
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