There’s an unheralded “superfood” in our midst, one that’s been used culinarily for thousands of years, but receives far less buzz than any assortment of mysterious potions and powders in the health food world. Enter: sea vegetables. There are many edible kinds, but kombu, also known as kelp, can propel even the most notoriously healthy of health foods—like quinoa—into a potent natural dose of macro and trace minerals.
Sea veggies should not taste like low tide, but their briny taste and slippery texture might take some warming up to. Added to a pot of grains (or soup or beans), kombu infuses any dish with a highly absorbable form of minerals, including calcium, iron, and zinc. Kombu makes its presence virtually undetectable if you remove it after cooking—all the reason to get into the habit of throwing some kombu in the pot. Add this to your regular rotation when you make a side dish.
Note: you can skip the first soaking step if you are pressed for time; the cooking liquid will increase slightly.
1 cup quinoa
1 to 1 ¾ cups water
½ teaspoon salt
1 2–inch strip of kombu
- For maximum digestibility and nutrient absorption, place quinoa in a bowl and add water to cover. Add a pinch of salt and soak overnight, at least 8 hours.
- Drain and rinse the grains well in a strainer. Add the rinsed quinoa to a small pot. If using soaked quinoa, add 1 cup of water; if you didn’t soak the quinoa, add 1 ¾ cups water. Add ¼ teaspoon salt and the strip of kombu.
- Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then cover and reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Cook for 15 minutes—do not peek inside while cooking. Turn off the heat and let rest, covered, for another 5 minutes.
- Remove the lid from the pot. The kombu should be sitting on top of the quinoa; remove it and either slice it up to serve on the side or discard it. Fluff the quinoa with a fork and serve hot.
- 1. Mineral-rich brown rice. Substitute short-grain brown rice for the quinoa. Increase the water to 1 ½ cups for soaked rice or 2 cups for unsoaked rice. Cook as directed, increasing the cooking time to 45 minutes.
- Quick quinoa pilaf. Saute a small diced yellow onion in a small pot with 1 tablespoon olive oil until softened. Replace water with vegetable or chicken stock, and add one bay leaf with the kombu. Cook as directed. Finish by stirring in ¼ cup chopped parsley or cilantro.
- Lemon and herb quinoa salad. Make “quick quinoa pilaf” in Variation 2. Mix together in a small bowl 1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice, ½ teaspoon lemon zest and 1 teaspoon salt until dissolved. Stir in 3 tablespoons olive oil. Toss dressing with quinoa pilaf and serve at room temperature.
- You can buy kombu at most health food stores or Whole Foods Market, in the global foods aisle.
- Soaking grains unlocks their healthy benefits by inactivating specific anti-nutrients, known as phytates, that protect the grains from sprouting before they’re ready. Phytates bind up minerals like iron in the gut, preventing you from absorbing them, and can potentially lead to nutrient deficits, malabsorption and anemia.
Compared to any type of plant grown on land, the concentration of organic minerals found in sea vegetables is unmatched. They contain a highly bioavailable dose of iron—one tablespoon of dried sea vegetable carries up to 35 milligrams; absorption is aided by its high levels of vitamin C. You can think of sea vegetables as mighty storehouses of nutrients that aren’t abundant in most foods, especially with increasingly depleted soils. One serving can supply you with up to 500 percent of daily required iodine; vanadium, a little-known but crucial mineral associated with carbohydrate metabolism and blood sugar regulation; as well as anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic polysaccharides called fucoidans. Sea veggies are better than supplements!
Now that you’re privy to the potent health properties of sea vegetables, I must tell you to be suspicious of the sea vegetable salad at your favorite sushi or Japanese spot; food coloring and high doses of white sugar are often liberally used in commercially prepared versions. Either ask if there is any sugar or food dye added, or opt to enjoy your sea veggies at home.