“When the Tide is Out… the Table is Set”
These words echo through conversations with my Elders and traditional foodies as they share memories of harvesting the shores of the Salish Sea. Anyone who has ever spent time at the beach when the tide is low, digging through sand and turning over rocks, understands the laborious and deliciously rewarding work of setting the tidal table. This week I spent several hours on the beaches of Lummi Island foraging, beyond the bivalves, in to the saltwater gardens nestled on the edge of the shore and the sea. Call them seaweeds or sea vegetables or micro algae, these beautiful dancing plants of the sea are not only some of the most nutritive foods on the planet they are incredibly medicinal. In fact, I would go as far to say they are THE most nutritious vegetable… or “weed” on the planet! (yes, more than the incredible stinging nettle- see nettle posts)
Looking beyond the slippery sliminess of seaweeds, one may find an incredibly sustainable food resource as well. When harvested correctly with gentle care, properly snipped seaweeds can grow right back. They are perennials that come completely packed full of useful protein, vitamins and trace minerals. Oh, and certain seaweeds like kelp will bind to heavy metal toxins and carry them right on out of your body.
So, you can imagine my excitement as I tromped through the pebbly beach to the edge of the low waters alongside some of my favorite people. Standing along the shore, with a new set of eyes, suddenly I found myself in a garden of abundance and diversity. All within a short reach I could see the reds of turkish towel and iridescent rainbow leaf, the browns of winged kelp and nori, and the greens of sea lettuce. Starfish in deep purple and sherbet orange (okay, we didn’t eat the starfish, just making sure your paying attention) waved and greeted us through the shallow waters and alongside rocks.
It didn’t take long before our bags were full and we were on our way to the kitchen where one of my favorite wild foods teachers, Jennifer Hahn shared her tasty recipes and stories about several sea plants.
We played the chlorophyll splash game and made a warming Sea Lettuce and Smoked Salmon Chowder. We learned the all about the old “Chocolate Seaweed Pie” trick, as the carrageeny nature of turkish towel (a natural thickener) made our chocolate soymilk into a silky pudding pie filling that nobody dare refuse. We shared stories about Mermaids of the Salish Sea, also known as the “Maiden of Deception Pass” (by the way, most cultures who eat seaweeds believe in mer-people) and ended the day feeling richly energized. Many varieties of seaweeds can be purchased at the grocery store. However, if you ever get a chance to get out and harvest seaweeds on your own- the time spent schlepping through the shores will surely feed your appetite for curiosity and nutritious foods.
Jennifer Hahn’s “Creamy Sea Vegetable and Smoked Salmon Chowder”
6 medium red potatoes cut in ½ inch cubes
½ cup diced red onion
2 carrots cut in thin rounds
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 tablespoon dried basil, or 2 tablespoons fresh
1-teaspoon fennel seeds, or 2 tablespoons minced fresh fennel
Pinch of cayenne
2 vegetable or chicken bouillon cubes, or 2 tablespoons of Japanese miso paste
3 to 4 cups water
1 zucchini, cut into half moons
½ cup red cabbage, chopped
½ cup sweet red pepper, chopped
1-cup ¼ by 2-inch strips of bullwhip or other fresh brown kelp
4 cups half-and-half, or plain soymilk (for optional non-dairy)
½ cup sea lettuce, minced (or parsley)
1 cup smoked salmon, finely flaked
¼ cup mirin (or cooking sake)
Salt and pepper
In a large soup pot, put potatoes, onion, carrots, garlic, basil, fennel, cayenne and bouillon. Barely cover vegetables with water and simmer until potatoes are fork tender. (If you use Japanese miso paste instead of bouillon, mash it into a ladle of broth just before serving.)
When potatoes and carrots are cooked, add zucchini, cabbage, sweet red pepper, and kelp. Cook until zucchini is soft cooked but not clear and mushy. Quickly stir in half-and-half or soymilk, seat lettuce, smoked salmon and mirin. Mash a few cooked potatoes against the inside of the pot with a fork if you want a thicker chowder,. Add slat and pepper and adjust to taste. Serve with crusty bread.
Yields 8 servings
Jennifer Hahn, Ryan Drum and Jennifer Adler are three of my favorite seaweed guru’s. Check out their wonderful resources for recipes, medicinal information and inspiration: