That funny guy is hijiki, a sea vegetable that is native to Japan, and popular in macrobiotic cooking.
Up until recently, my only real sea veggie experience was with nori seaweed snacks, sushi (also nori), and sprinkling dulse powder on Asian dishes as a condiment. I had no idea where to start with other members of the seaweed family, so I just avoided them.
I was fortunate enough to come across quite a bit of info about sea veggies while I was reading about the macrobiotic diet in the last few months. Along with promoting whole grains, beans, and land vegetables, macrobiotics also places a strong emphasis on getting plenty of sea vegetables in your diet. Preferably, everyday, rotating through different types, including nori, hijiki, arame, dulse, wakame, and kombu.
Hijiki is a treasure-trove of minerals. It is high in iron, calcium, and magnesium, for strong bones and blood, as well as iodine, which helps keep your thyroid in order. The main source of iodine for most Americans is iodized salt, so if you have switched to sea salt, then it is especially important to get sea veggies in your diet. Iodine deficiency ends up causing your thyroid to swell, called a goiter. It is not at all attractive, and having your thyroid out of whack can cause all sorts of issues, including fatigue, depression, weight-gain, and mental slowness. In fact, a prolonged iodine deficiency can actually cause you to lose 10-15 IQ points and is referred to as cretinism.
People seem to avoid sea vegetables, mostly because of the ocean flavor. While a bit of sea flavor comes naturally with the territory, if you cook hijiki the right way, it can taste incredible.
- 1/2 cup dried hijiki
- 1 T tamari or shoyu
- 2 T coconut oil
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1 T garlic, minced
- sea salt
- 1 cup carrot, sliced on a bias to make larger slices
- 1 cup asparagus, trimmed, and chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 1″ chunk ginger, peeled and grated
- sesame seeds for garnish
1. Place hijiki in a bowl, and cover with hot water. Allow to stand for 30 minutes to absorb the water, then drain and rinse in a strainer or colander.
2. Transfer the hijiki to a small saucepan, and add shoyu. Add water until the hijiki is almost covered, then cook, without a lid, over medium heat until the water has nearly evaporated. This should take 30-40 minutes.
3. While the hijiki is cooking, heat the coconut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, and sea salt, and saute for a few minutes, until translucent.
4. Add the asparagus and carrots to the skillet. Place a lid over the skillet, and allow the veggies to cook until they are soft, but still crisp, which should take 3-5 minutes.
5. Add the cooked hijiki to the vegetables in the skillet, mix well, and allow to cook for another minute or two.
6. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, and serve.
Although I chose asparagus for it’s seasonality, and carrots because they’re a nutritious, inexpensive filler veggie, you can pick whatever vegetables you would like for this recipe. Broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, or daikon would probably be great as well, but your possibilities are endless.
This dish goes exquisitely with some brown rice or quinoa, and perhaps some edamame or marinated grilled tempeh.
It is to be noted that scientists have found that hijiki naturally contains a very finite amount of arsenic. To date, there have been no cases of people experiencing arsenic poisoning from hijiki. The main concern is with the carcinogenic effects of arsenic, so if you are already at high risk for cancer, you would do best to avoid hijiki. You can replace the hijiki in this recipe with it’s cousin, arame if you feel more comfortable. No other sea vegetables have been shown to contain arsenic. The US government hasn’t said a word about hijiki, but the Japanese government has stated that consuming hijiki once a week is acceptable and healthy.
Hijiki, and other sea vegetables, can be found in your local Asian market, or in your health food store.