Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Eat Your Seaweed

Eat Your Seaweed
Stacey Greenberg

I have a magic trick that I like to do when people come over to my house. I call my three-year-old and my one-year-old into the kitchen and ask, “What do you guys want to eat for snack today?”

They jump up and down and squeal, “Seaweed! Seaweed!” Then I grab a package of nori, hand it to them, and enjoy the look of amazement on the faces of my visitors as Satchel and Jiro gobble it up like most kids gobble up potato chips.

When I first showed my mom, she simply could not believe her eyes. “At that age you were trying to convince me that anything green made you throw up,” she said.

Even my Japanese mother-in-law, who really deserves the credit for my trick, seemed stunned when I showed her. Stunned and pleased, I should say. (To be fair, I think her astonishment came more from the fact that we could actually purchase seaweed in Memphis.)

I didn’t develop a taste for seaweed until I discovered sushi in my mid twenties, but my husband grew up eating it and made sure it was among our children’s first foods. Next to breastmilk, I think it is the most nutritious food I have ever given them.

Seaweed is one of the most ancient life forms on earth as well as one of the richest sources of minerals in the vegetable kingdom. It contains high amounts of calcium and phosphorous and is extremely high in magnesium, iron, iodine and sodium. It can be eaten fresh, but is most often granulated or dried and reconstituted while cooking other foods.

I really believe that if I can get my kids to eat seaweed, then anyone can. The first thing to do is to find a good Asian market. It doesn't have to be a Japanese market per se. We can usually find a variety of seaweed and miso products at Vietnamese, Chinese, and Korean markets in Memphis. If there is not an Asian market nearby, some basic seaweed products are usually available at natural foods stores. (However, they do tend to be more expensive there.) There are also Asian grocers on the Internet.

Start introducing the taste of seaweed on foods that your children already eat. There are a variety of chips and crackers with seaweed flavoring available. My favorite is Lundberg’s organic tamari and seaweed rice cakes. You could also sprinkle kelp on food instead of salt.

We started off sprinkling furikake, a mixture of seaweed, sesame seeds, and other dried vegetable flakes on our rice. Furikake comes in many flavors and can include lots of different ingredients. (Be sure you read the label, because some varieties have MSG.) We also use furikake to make rice balls, which are a great snack. Jiro would sprinkle the whole jar of furikake in his mouth if we let him.

Once your kids get a taste for seaweed, try introducing nori. Nori is the seaweed used for sushi rolls and is most commonly packaged in 6’ square sheets. However, it comes in a smaller snack size and can be purchased in big bulk containers or smaller packages that are perfect for lunch boxes. Satchel and Jiro can eat nori in extremely large quantities and prefer it straight out of the wrapper, but they also eat it draped around rice balls and in sushi rolls.

When your children are seaweed aficionados, break out the wakame. Wakame looks and tastes like spinach and is perfect in miso soup. Once you cook it, it becomes leafy and expands to ten times its original size. You'd be surprised at just how long a bag of wakame can last.

Once you get an idea of what your children like you can expand your repertoire with kombu, hijiki, and other varieties of seaweed. You may even find some other uses for seaweed. Last winter while visiting my in-laws in California, the boys went to the beach for the first time. Satchel spent a good hour playing with the long strands of seaweed along the surf and Jiro helped Warren and I pick out dried seaweed pods that we later used for doppelgangers.

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