Thursday, 12 September 2013

Seaweeds, edible, available & sustainable

Ole G. Mouritsen is a scientist and Professor of Biophysics at the University of Southern Denmark. Be impressed but rest assured this book is not one that will be pushed to the back of a highbrow academic library shelf; it is a delightfully easy read and is beautifully illustrated with superb photographs. Mouritsen charts the history of seaweed and Brits will enjoy mention of the fact that Dr Kathleen Mary Drew Baker (1901-57) discovered a property of porphyra (more familiar to us as laver or nori), which enabled it to be cultivated. Indeed the Japanese hold Kathleen Drew Baker in high regard referring to her as the ‘Mother of the Sea.’
Understandably there is a heavy focus on the cultivation of seaweed in Japan but as lovers of nori and sushi this is to be expected. They might not however, have known without reading this book that harvesting carrageen (a red seaweed) in Zanzibar enables mothers there to support their families.
“Seaweeds are marine algae” heads many a page as Mouritsen seeks to direct the reader’s understanding of the colloquial term ‘seaweed’.

There are chapters on Seaweed folklore, its technical uses (from gunpowder, soda and early glass making to biofuels) and its use in medicine, health care and cosmetics.

My favourite chapter was obviously going to be  ‘Seaweeds in the kitchen’ and the cooks amongst you will be pleased to learn that it is a long and comprehensive one:
·      Seaweeds in the Home Kitchen
·      Seaweeds As Seasonings
·      Seaweeds In Soups
·      Seaweeds In Salads And Sauces
Seaweeds in Omelettes and in Fish and Vegetable dishes
·      Seaweeds and Sushi
·      Seaweeds in Bread, Pasta and Savoury Tarts
·      Seaweeds in Desserts and Cakes
·      Seaweeds in Drinks
·      Seaweeds in Snacks
·      Seaweed in Gastronomy

There has to be something for everyone in this amazing collection. The recipes are clearly written and the ingredient lists not extensive. You could simply take your tried and tested Guacamole recipe and add 5 tbsps of dried sea lettuce or dulse or even try the same with Mayonnaise. Come to think of it I have such a recipe in the Forager’s Kitchen. My book is not academic but in neither book do the recipes require a science degree. A professor who is an accomplished cook, is a rarity but one who has the foresight to write for an international readership while keeping measurements accessible, must be nigh on unique.

I love Mouritsen’s book. In this kitchen it certainly won’t be collecting dust, metaphorical or otherwise, but it might get enhanced by splashes from slimy wet seaweed and other ingredients. It’s on my list of “don’t lend to anyone unless they are your best friend” editions.

I paid for this book although Ole G Mouritsen has ping-ed an email from Denmark to the Outer Hebrides “It is a great experience to get into contact with people with whom you share a passion ('of cooking with weird things´)”.  I have to adore an author who bothers to quote me in an email.