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If you are not eating sea vegetables, you are missing out an excellent source of vitamins, mineral, and reported health benefits. Although most commonly associated with Asian cuisine, various types of sea vegetables and other edible plants have been traditionally harvested from the sea in Mediterranean cultures, Africa, and Russia. In fact, even during the colonial days, dulse was gathered from the Atlantic Ocean, which became a common ingredient in many New England foods during this point in our history. Sea vegetables are still consumed today by Americans, most common of which is nori, the delicate, paper-like wrapper that is used to make certain types of sushi. Carrageen, a thickening agent, is used in ice cream and various other foods to enhance texture.
Sea vegetables offer a wide range of health benefits when regularly consumed. In Asian cultures, they are revered for promoting the body's ability to expel toxins. Often utilized within alternative healing modalities due to their medicinal properties, sea vegetables can strengthen kidney function, improve mental concentration, enhance digestive health, and can even promote sexual function. Sea vegetables have also been used to absorb and expel cholesterol within the body.
Sea vegetables are extremely high in vitamins and minerals. They are a great source of iodine, a mineral essential to healthy thyroid function. Vitamin K, folate, magnesium, calcium, and iron are also all found in sea vegetables. Aside from their high vitamin and mineral content, they also contain dietary fiber. Some varieties even contain moderate amounts of protein. In the 1970's, the western world finally started to appreciate sea vegetables. During this time, McGill University found sea vegetables to be helpful in aiding the elimination of nuclear radiation from the body. Japanese researchers have studied the effects of sea vegetable consumption on cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure, finding consumption to be linked with a decrease in rates of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
Most find sea vegetables tend to be an acquired taste. There are an infinite number of ways to prepare sea vegetables, along with numerous varieties, each with its own unique flavor and texture. Although it may take some trial and error, there is a sea vegetable out there to suit nearly all taste preferences. Also keep in mind, that those very limited to the typical tastes and textures of westernized diet may find their taste buds needing to make some adjustments in order to enjoy the foreign taste experience of sea vegetables. However, if cooked properly and introduced gradually, sea vegetables should be a staple in any health-promoting diet.
Those who are new to sea vegetables should first be introduced to the most mild-tasting and easy-to-prepare varieties. These include arame, nori, dulse, and hiziki, all of which can be found in a natural foods store. Arame is naturally sweet tasting and is best enjoyed by newcomers to the sea vegetable world when served as a small side dish. Dulse is intensely salty, but can be soaked to remove most of its naturally high sodium content and then toasted and crushed so that flakes of dulse can be used instead of table salt. Making this substitution offers a simple way achieve a higher vitamin and mineral content in the diet. Nori is also very mild and sweet and is often used to accompany grains, such as in some sushi preparations. Hiziki has the strongest favor of all the sea vegetables recommended for beginners. It is most palatable when added in small amounts to soups or when sautéed in combination with root vegetables such as onion and carrots.
Arame When preparing arame, rinse 1-3 times. One ounce of arame yields 2 cups cooked. Arame can be boiled for 30 to 40 minutes, but is most tasty when sautéed until tender with root vegetables. It is also commonly consumed in certain Asian-style salads or with tofu or beans.
Dulse Rinse 1-3 times depending on how salty is desired. Then, allow the dulse to dry. Dulse is best when it is dry roasted for 5 to 10 minutes, then crumbled over soups and salads as a garnish or condiment.
Nori Nori is usually purchased already dried in black, paper-like, sheets. It can be toasted, if desired, but for less than one minute over dry heat. Use Nori to wrap sushi or rice and other grains into balls, and to garnish soups, noodles, and casseroles.
Hiziki Rinse 1 to 3 times, then soak 5 minutes. Hiziki is extremely expansive when cooked, as 1 ounce yields 5 cups. Like Arame, it can simply be boiled, but needs a much longer cooking time of 45 to 60 minutes. It is most flavorful when sautéed with root vegetables.
Those new to sea vegetables can also try adding small amounts of arame, dulse, nori, or hiziki to the following stir fry recipe. Remember that hiziki and arame expand greatly when cooked.
2 cups of cubed chicken or tofu, uncooked
1 cup sliced carrot
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups of chopped kale or bok choy
1 red, orange, or yellow pepper, chopped
1 cup sliced button mushrooms
1 cup raw snow peas
1 cup raw bean sprouts
1 4-6 ounce can of water chestnuts
A small amount of uncooked hiziki, or arame
Sprinkle dulse flakes, to taste
Tamari, or soy sauce, to taste
1 tbs. roasted peanut oil
1/4 cup vegetable or chicken broth
1-2 cups of cooked brown rice to serve over, if desired
On medium-high heat, cook cubed chicken or tofu until golden in the oil, add carrots, cooking until nearly tender. Add the rest of the ingredients, including desired sea vegetable, tamari, minced garlic, broth, and dulse flakes. Cook all ingredients until vegetables are tender and the chicken is fully cooked, adding extra stock if needed.
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