Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dulse? It's a sea vegetable.

Dulse is an edible sea vegetable which grows along the rocky coasts of the North Atlantic Ocean, from the United States, Canada, Iceland, the British Isles and beyond. Although westerners are unfamiliar with most sea vegetables, people all over the world have harvested them for centuries to use as food and medicine. Generations of California's north coast native inhabitants relied on local sea vegetables to supplement their diets. Ancient Chinese medical texts prescribe a variety of sea vegetables for use in traditional herbal formulas and Asian chefs have long featured sea vegetables in their cuisine.

Palmaria palmata, the botanical term for dulse, is from the Latin for "hand" because the plant is shaped like a human hand as it grows in the sea. A member of the red algae family, dulse is a beautiful deep purple- red color. Rich in minerals, vitamins, protein, and fiber, it is one of the most nutritious vegetables available for human consumption and can be a particularly valuable addition to vegan and raw food diets. Once harvested and dried, dulse has a long shelf life and is a versatile food which can be used in salads, soups, stews, and snacks.

Dulse requires no cooking; my favorite way to eat it is straight from the bag with a sliced pear or apple and a handful of almonds. If dulse is new to you, try small amounts first; for some this is an acquired taste not unlike certain highly flavored gourmet cheeses. Try toasting dulse briefly in an iron skillet till crisp; crumble into salads or other vegetable dishes, or pair with warm toasted walnuts for an amazingly delicious treat.

Note: Dulse is available in some natural food stores and online. Look for dulse which is deeply colored, pliable, and free of extraneous organic matter.