While I’m not a big fan of treating food as a fashion item or chasing after the latest food trend, I do like the fact that kelp and edible seaweed in general have gained interest and recognition as delicious food with incredible nutritious benefits.
Kelp, known as hai dai (海带, meaning “sea ribbon”) in China, or kombu (昆布, meaning “large cloth”) in Japan, has been widely eaten in East Asia long before it became “fashionable” in the West. Rich in umami flavor, mildly salty, and subtly sweet, kelp is great on its own, or used as a flavor enhancer.
You’ll generally find kelp in its dried form, in Asian markets and health food stores. The dried kelp strips are often covered with a thin layer of white powder, which comes from the interior and is formed at the surface during the drying process. The power is full of flavors and you wouldn’t want to wash it away. Simply wipe the kelp with a damp cloth before using.
My favorite way of cooking kelp is to add it to pork rib soup, which produces an intensely meaty and comforting broth that’s perfect for a cold winter day.
In warm weather, a refreshing kelp salad is the way to go. You can use my recipe below as a guide, and flavor the kelp based on your own preference, with virtually endless possibilities.
A side bonus of making this salad? You also get a kelp stock packed with umami and great for vegetarian dishes.
Kelp salad with garlic oil and sesame seeds
Makes 2 servings
1 oz (30 g) dried kelp
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon roasted white sesame seeds
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons Zhenjiang (aka Chinkiang) vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Finely chopped chives or scallions for garnish
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
- Cut the kelp into shorter strips for easier handling, and soak them in 3 cups of cold water for 2 hours.
- Transfer the kelp and the soaking water to a saucepan, and bring to a gentle boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the kelp is cooked to your desired texture. I like it soft with some crunch, but definitely not mushy.
- Remove the kelp from the cooking water and let it cool. Strain the cooking water (kelp stock) and reserve for another use. Slice the kelp cross-wise into thin (about 2-3 mm) matchsticks. Rolling each kelp strip into a scroll makes the slicing easier.
- In a bowl, mix the kelp with the soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving.
- Right before serving, place the minced garlic in a heat-proof bowl. Heat the oil in a wok or skillet until tiny wisps of smoke start to rise, and pour the oil over the garlic. Swiftly stir the mixture to let the garlic flavor infuse into the oil. Add the mixture as well as the sesame seeds to the kelp. Toss to mix well. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed. Garnish with the chives and serve.
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