It was a bright, crisp day. We walked along the pebbled beach, admiring the shapes and colours. We had come in search of sea beet, but the greenery was scarce and mostly unreachable up the cliff sides.
Instead, we dipped our hands into the icy cold water and gathered sea weeds. We knew nothing, although they were all vaguely familiar, we had no idea which, if any were edible; although I thought the floaty vibrant green ones looked deliciously edible, a quick nibble did little to confirm this suspicion and I had to chew it for much longer than I had intended!
We gathered only small amounts, for identification purposes, so as not to be wasteful, however I already had an inkling that I recognised the green one as sea lettuce and had long been intrigued to try it, so I picked slightly more of the tasty looking ones.
We found a comfortable rock and enjoyed a hot coffee whilst gazing out at the beautiful view, admiring the cormorants as they held their wings towards the sun and the seagulls surfing the breeze.
Revitalised, we wondered back towards the cliffs to inspect the sparse greenery, and my companion, determined, clambered up a little way to grab a handful of leaves which I confess I was rather dubious of. They seemed too tough and prickly to be anything particularly edible.
We sauntered back as the sun dipped to meet the sea behind us and each time we turned to look we were awe-struck by the colours of the sunset, it was absolutely beautiful and we felt so blessed to be there and rather surprised that there weren’t more people to enjoy it. The only other spectators were two chaps with a camera near the car park.
We arrived home with a bag of assorted sea weeds and a meagre handful of leaves and set about trying to identify our finds. I washed the sea vegetables in a large pan of water and set about detangling them. The bright green ones, as I suspected, were sea lettuce (much more palatable when cooked a little), we also had some kelp, possibly more than one variety and dulce which is red. Although we couldn’t positively identify all of them, the beauty of harvesting seaweeds, as I understand, is that, unlike many plants and fungi, particularly, there are no poisonous seaweeds growing at beach level here, so as long as they are harvested fresh, (which of course they should be!) they are at least safe to eat, even if they’re not particularly palatable!
The leaves gathered from the cliff, to my surprise, we identified as wild mustard (brassica nigra) . A sniff and a nibble easily confirmed the fact! I’m very excited about this as it is the source of the black mustard seed, which I enjoy cooking with.
I have recently discovered the joy of miso soup and I was keen to add some sea vegetables. I had often glanced at the dried varieties available, shipped from far off shores and with hefty price tags, and I felt much more inclined to gather my own, local and fresh.
I now discovered that kelp, whilst tough and not especially appetising, was the key to an ingredient I had always missed in my miso soups: Dashi stock. I was aware that it was something used in Japan but only now discovered that kelp was a main component, and I was inspired to find a mention in one of my favourite foraging blogs of a more regional recipe.
I put the dulce and sea lettuce, thoroughly washed, to one side and chopped the kelp into small pieces to simmer in a pot of water and was interested to note the change in colour (from brown to green).
I fried fresh ginger and garlic in toasted sesame oil, added sliced onions, well cooked mushrooms and the sea lettuce and dulce. I also added some finely sliced carrots and then to the stock…
I had been very light on the kelp for the stock as I was unsure of the intensity of the flavour (next time I will use much more) and I used a little of my favourite mushroom stock to add flavour. (I like to add some dried mushrooms too, if I have them but they are expensive and imported as well and I hope to gain knowledge of local alternatives to forage in the future.)
I always add the miso paste just before serving to avoid heating out the goodness and I reserved a little of the stock to mix into the paste. This is quite important as the miso is very thick and wont disperse otherwise (and it’s not so pleasant eating unexpected lumps of it!).
I simmered the soup until the vegetables began to soften and then added the noodles.
Finally, once everything was cooked, I added the miso paste and served!
It was delicious and felt very healthful and wholesome. I had included a little of the kelp from the stock, just to see what it would be like; it was tough. I wont add it again, but the sea lettuce and dulce I really enjoyed and wished there was more!
I’m excited about using Sea plants more often in the future.
Happy Foraging Foodies!