Monday, June 25, 2007

Destination Dulse

“Every time we walk along a beach some ancient urge disturbs us so that we find ourselves shedding shoes and garments or scavenging among seaweed and whitened timbers like the homesick refugees of a long war.” – Loren Eiseley

Who would guess that in spite of sitting in the middle of an almost land locked state relieved by a mere 18 miles of coastal water; I am nevertheless, hopelessly out to sea? Imagine this beautiful surreal image, a glinting semi- translucent Neptunian palm enticing me with seductive twirls and waves of magenta. Palmaria palmata, sea parsley, or to-the-point Dulse has a hypnotic hold on me and I am not sure if I have ever walked about on firm ground. For the last few weeks I have been frolicking with the inhabitants of the intertidal zone in an aquatic Pas de Deux. I have been eating straggles of dried dulse straight and uninterrupted, out of the bag.

The seaweed in this form is a rather forgettable version of its former supple self. It is dulled down raisin brown and crumpled like wads of tobacco. Perhaps this dried sea vegetable could be unfavorably compared to forgotten snatches of tissue found in the remote corner of one’s pant pocket. The odor is strong to be sure- salty, deep and resonant. The smell matches its old and musty appearance. And while at first experience this sensory assault can be off putting, there is a deeper story within.

Seaweeds are majestic plant like organisms of the sea which help sustain life on earth. These macro-algae located more or less in the region where the water hits the land along with microscopic free floating phytoplankton (micro-algae) convert sunlight into cellular growth, which in turn feed zooplankton and other marine animals higher up the food chain. Seaweeds are highly adapted to sustain themselves in the aqua environment in which they live. Possessing neither roots nor stems nor leaves, these weeds-of-the-sea choose strongholds, stipes, and blades. In order to keep up with the pulse of tide and the pound of surf and wave, these algae are hearty enough to withstand a wild ride yet exceedingly flexible so that they can thrash about without endangering themselves. Even their slippery mucilaginous surfaces assist to reduce friction caused by the non stop rollick of the sea. On top of being adaptive and nutritionally supportive to life, seaweeds provide mesmerizing beauty and much needed shelter. Dancing underwater sea leaves are the physical embodiment of rolling liquid ripples, prismatic swells, and cyclonic twists. In large formations this seemingly delicate vegetation creates impressive feathery nests and shadowy forested canopies to protect tiny crustaceans, invertebrates, fish and marine mammals big and small.

Therefore it is no surprise that upon land, seaweed is physically and emotionally supportive to human life as coastal communities around the world have long known. It has been used as food, medicine and fertilizer since the earliest of times. Sea vegetables contain high amounts of fiber, protein, minerals, vitamins and enzymes. And given that they nourish the heart, improve immune function, assist digestion, repair tissue, remove toxins, build bones, feed the endocrine system, sooth the nervous system, encourage luxurious hair and skin growth, and increase stamina, it is a wonder that we don’t eat this healthful life giving food 24-7.

Decidedly dark, briny, and “of the sea”, seaweed has a distant familiar taste. Iron tinged like blood, tangentially vegetal- I dare assert the flavor is primordial and this may be the root of some aversion. There is wildness to it; a power, a stripped to the marrow quality that pulsates too nakedly for some. And this is precisely the reason why it is so nourishing. The food is born of the fertile union between ocean and sun. The taste contains the tang of salt, verve and resolute will. It also hauntingly reminds us of the comfort, buoyant rocking and nurturance of our first amniotic homes.

In the end, seaweed is good for much more than sushi. While it may start out seeming exotic, strange and slimy, the rotting detritus of an ebbing tide; in little time seductive sea leaf will call out in gradually larger shouts. It will first appear in soups and chowders before sneaking into grains, beans and salads. Egad, in time you may discover your cheeks suspiciously bulging with an indiscreet mouthful of sea jerky. Wind in your hair, sand between your toes, another lost refugee has at last come home.

DL(A)T, makes one sandwich: This is standard back of the seaweed package recipe. Dulse is an umami rich food and is entertainingly reminiscent of bacon when roasted. While I find this to be true I am also well aware that in certain veggie loving, health conscious groups there is a lot of substituting/reframing going around. Brewer’s yeast, flax seeds, cashews, tofu, miso etc. can be blitzed and doctored to act like eggs and cheese. Nevertheless, I find this sandwich to be so good that I must exclaim its virtue just about every other bite. It is better with avocado too.

Handful of Dulse
Lettuce leaf
Sliced Tomato
Sliced Avocado (optional)
Sprouted or Whole grain bread

Directions: Take a small skillet on medium and place your dulse on the hot pan. Out of the bag dulse is dark purplish brown, leathery with a touch of moistness to it. With a bit of roasting the seaweed turns crisp and somewhat brown. Be careful because an inattentive eye will lead to burned dulse quickly. Lightly spread mayo on both slices of bread. Press roasted dulse into one side, the sliced tomatoes, lettuce, and avocado if desired. Then top with the other bread and cut in half since this tends to get messy.


Ellie said...

Callipygia, you are the poet laureate of the food blog world. Your eloquence cannot be matched by any other writer, and each post seems to cast your subject in a new light for me :) I've always loved seaweed in all its versions, but now I think I love it just that much more!

Lydia said...

I think the only seaweed I've eaten -- knowingly -- is nori, but I've been hearing about dulse. Thanks for teaching us a bit more about it.

Callipygia said...

Ellie- Thank you your kind words make my day! As for seaweed, after myeok guk I've been smitten forever.

lydia- Maybe you have had a bit of wakame or kombu in miso soup? I guess it is an acquired taste my friend told me today she finds dulse unappealing...I was somewhat shocked!

Honeycake said...

Calvin Trillin, writing in The New Yorker about a neighborhood dispute on the Canadian island of Grand Manan, mentions your fabled seaweed: in describing the various local occupations, one of which is collecting and drying "dulse, a seaweed that is edible, or at least considered so in the Canadian Maritimes." Snort.

Honeycake said...

It's very salty.

Anh said...

Callipygia, when I see your new post, I made myself a cup of coffee, sit down, and read! Reading your post is such a pleasure, I really appreciate it.

I eat seaweed in sushi and in soup. That's about it. But I do like the flavour.

sher said...

Now I'm lusting after a dulse sandwich--and I've never had dulse. My blood feels oddly stirred after reading your wonderful post. It wants what it wants--and it's crying "dulse" with each beat of my heart!

Callipygia said...

Honeycake- Calvin can kiss my dulse adoring butt! But you I just kiss, yes, it is too salty for some. But it actually is relatively low in sodium; being natural it feeds the body.

Anh- Thank you for reading. Seaweed in soup/sushi is my usual way as well. But this sandwich really is something else.

Sher- Oh, now you got the bug- good girl. Lust is an appropriate word since according to Susun Weed, seaweeds really get our juices flowing. Enough said!

Monkey Wrangler said...

Calli, I'm just getting into seaweed. I've seen lots of dried stuff, but what about fresh? You used to live out my way......should I go harvest it somewhere? Or maybe, where did you get it, because a DLAT on sourdough sounds delish!

Callipygia said...

monkeywrangler- Thanks for asking about sources (I forgot to include some). I like Mendocino Sea Vegetable Company and Maine Coast Sea Vegetables. Their products are easily located at WholeFoods/Berkeley Bowl. But the Lewallens of Mendocino have a contact and I'd use it to find out more about collecting fresh from the area. I believe all seaweeds are edible, not necessarily palatable tho. And I think that generally the flavor and texture of seaweeds is enhanced dried. There is a concern about how seaweeds are being collected (impact on environment) and areas being over "harvested". There is also a website for Ryan Drum who is a master herbalist, which has great articles. He talks a little about collecting too and can be contacted with questions! The more I learn about sea veggies, the more I love them. They are such a powerhouse of nutrients and keep us connected to the oceans. I hope this is helpful.

HipWriterMama said...

Wow. You really know your stuff on dulse. Beautiful post on a soothing food.

Lis said...

Holy cow a seaweed sammich! Once again you've opened my eyes to another food that I would have overlooked. I shall keep my eyes open for dulse!