It helps to call them sea vegetables instead of seaweed, but whatever you call them, Jessie Muhlin, a professor of ocean studies at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, thinks kelp, dulse, alaria and other ocean plants are just plain tasty. So much so that every year, she hosts a Sea Vegetable Lab and Phyco Feast for her students, to explore the world of edible seaweed and its many culinary applications.
“I think people hear the word ‘seaweed’ and go, ‘ewww,’ but people have been eating sea vegetables for a very long time, especially in Maine and New England,” Muhlin said. “Calling it sea vegetables just makes it sound more like what it is, which is something people eat all over the world.”
At her yearly event, Muhlin serves everything from crispy, buttery kelp chips (made like kale chips, except with more savory, salty crunch) to seaweed smoothes; from sushi rolls made with nori imported from Asia to kelp stipe pickles, made with the stem, or stipe, from kelp found right here in Maine. In fact, most of the sea vegetables used in the feast come from Maine Sea Vegetables, the Franklin-based company that has harvested and distributed kelp, dulse, rockweed, alaria and other products for more than 40 years. Maine Sea Vegetables will have a booth and products for sale at the Maine Harvest Festival, set for 10 a.m.-4 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 11-12, at the Bangor Auditorium.
“Maine is a uniquely great place for sea vegetables because our coasts are relatively clean and unspoiled,” Muhlin said. “You can gather it yourself, though you should check to make sure wherever you’re getting it is safe.”
Until the advent of mass-produced, processed food, sea vegetables were a common presence in soups, stews and other dishes in coastal New England dishes. With sushi and Japanese food’s rapid rise in popularity over the past 15 years, however, American palates are reawakening to the complex flavors and nutritional benefits of sea vegetables.
“They’re full of all kinds of good minerals, like iron and calcium, and lots of protein, too,” Muhlin said. “They’re very, very good for you, and they just impart a different kind of flavor to things that you’re just not going to get anywhere else.”
Dulse and Cheese Scones
Makes 20 to 22 small scones
1½ ounces dulse (about three quarters of a package of Maine Sea Vegetables dulse), toasted and crumbled
Olive oil, for frying
2 onions, chopped very finely
2 garlic cloves, chopped
4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons mustard powder
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¾ stick of butter, softened
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
¾ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese or crumbled goat cheese, or other sharp cheese
¼ cup Parmesan, Asiago or Romano cheese, for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 410 degrees. Grease either one large baking pan or two smaller ones. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onions and garlic gently, for about three minutes, until translucent. Add the crumbled dulse at the end and combine, and then set aside to cool. Sift the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Stir in the mustard, cayenne and cream of tartar. Dice and rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Make a well and pour in the milk and egg, reserving a little. Mix gently to combine. Stir in the cheese, and the cooked garlic and onion and dulse. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and flatten, to a thickness of just over an inch. Using a 1½-inch cookie cutter, cut out scones and place on the baking tray. The scones will be small in diameter but very tall. Brush with reserved milk and egg, and sprinkle the grated cheese on top. Bake for 12 minutes until golden; best served warm with butter.
Adapted from Prannie Rhatigan’s Irish Seaweed Cookbook.