I haven’t talked about actual food in a while, so today I thought I would talk about the history of one of my favorite foods: Nori. When I was young I used to have reoccurring dreams of a seaweed-witch who lived under my porch. It seems that this is actually a fairly common unconscious connection. Like any good food-stuff, seaweed is surrounded in mythology. After reading up on it, it’s easy to see why, in our collective dreams, seaweed is a symbol of the vitality of the unconscious and the feminine.

  • The only poisonous seaweed is Lyngbya, appropriately called “mermaid’s hair”–a bright green, tangled mass of skinny strands. You’ve probably seen clumps of this on shore—maybe right next to the cold, clammy “dead man’s fingers” (Scytosiphon Lomentarius). Perhaps the dead man’s fingers are all that is left of that victim of die Lorelei, man-eating siren of Teutonic mythology. (http://www.susunweed.com)
  • Hina-lau-limu-kala is the Hawaiian Goddess of seaweed. She is one of the many forms of the Great Goddess Hina, and her name means “Hina of the kala seaweed.” She lived in the sea with her husband, Kane-piliko’a (Kane of the coral beds). The symbol of the goddess Thetis’, Mother of Achilles, is seaweed. There are numerous Norse myths involving seaweed. And the effects of seaweed on the brain are not limited to the imagination, it also seems that there is a good bit of research out there on the neurological effects of seaweed (both good and bad) as well.
  • Seaweed agriculture is also on of the few types of intensive agriculture that is actually generally good for the environment.  Seaweed farming helps to preserve coral reefs by increasing diversity where the algae and seaweed have been introduced and it also provides added niche for local species of fish and invertebrates. Farming may be beneficial by increasing the production of herbivorous fishes and shellfish in the area. Pollnac et al (1997b) reported an increase in Siginid population after the start of extensive farming of Eucheuma seaweed in villages in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. (wikipedia)
  • Nori (the most popular type of seaweed) is about a third protein and a third dietary fiber. It contains high proportions of iodine, carotene, vitamins A, B and C, as well as significant amounts of calcium and iron.

Not only is seaweed good for you, it’s delicious. Personally, I can never get enough of the stuff. For a quick and tasty snack, try this:

Sesame Nori Crisps

This is adapted from recipes that can be found in The Voluptuous Vegan by Myra Kornfeld (Clarkson Potter 2000) and Clean Food by Terry Walters (Sterling Epicure 2009). Both brown rice and nori can be found in natural foods stores. But for big, inexpensive packs of nori with 50 sheets or more (which you’ll suddenly find you need after making this recipe), go to Asian markets. Be careful not to overtoast the nori, as the sesame seeds can easily burn.

Sesame Nori Crisps

T. Susan Chang for NPR

6 sheets toasted nori

1/4 cup canola oil

1/4 cup brown rice syrup

Sea salt or other fine salt

Pinch of cayenne or other red pepper (optional)

1 1/2 cups white sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Lay out the nori in a single layer on the parchment paper.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, thoroughly whisk together the oil, rice syrup, salt and cayenne if using. Using a pastry brush, generously coat the top of each piece of nori with the syrup mixture. When you’ve coated the top surface of all the nori, sprinkle with sesame seeds and salt. Toast in oven 5 to 7 minutes, until the seeds are light brown.

Re-whisk the syrup mixture. When the nori has cooled enough to handle, flip it over, brush the other side with the syrup and sprinkle with seeds and salt. Return to the oven for another 5 to 7 minutes. Remove it from the oven and let cool completely. Break it into large pieces and store in an airtight container. If it absorbs moisture from the air and gets floppy, toast it gently in the oven (at 200 degrees) to get rid of the moisture, and it cools to a crisp state again.



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