Monday, August 24, 2015

K is for Kelp: Kelp Noodle Salad. I promise it’s nothing like fish food.

Kelp Noodle Salad

By now you’ve learned that Michel is generally an intrepid kind of guy when it comes to food.  He loves to browse leisurely through farmers’ markets and ethnic groceries in hopes of coming across something he’s never tried before.  I, on the other hand, get very nervous when faced with strange places and things.  Take Chinatown in San Francisco, for example—or in Chicago or any other big-city Chinatown.  I struggle with the crowded sidewalks and the funky smells emanating from those ubiquitous food markets and eateries while Michel breathes it all in and seeks out a nice cup of Pu-Ehr tea.

It’s no surprise that Michel decided to try kelp noodles when he spotted them at Whole Foods.  No fat, near zero carbs, low calories, high mineral content—generally a wholesome alternative to regular pasta.  I initially had some difficulty getting around the word “kelp” because it reminded me of the fish tank filled with guppies and snails my father used to keep on his office desk. One of my jobs was sprinkling the smelly fish food flakes into the top of the tank—carefully so that I didn’t give them too much.  I admit I’m still carrying some residual childhood anxiety from learning that the mother guppies would eat the newborn baby guppies if they weren’t caught and separated from her immediately.  I was always on high alert, keeping watch over the little clear plastic hatchery periodically suspended in the tank, hoping all the baby guppies would swim through the partition to safety.  I’m still on high alert about pretty much everything in the world—but no longer about eating kelp noodles, at least. 

The Sea Tangle Noodle Company website is quite informative and its packaging is very friendly and straightforward—raw kelp noodles “made with mineral-rich sea kelp” and having a “neutral taste.”  Fair enough, but my mind goes right back to the 1970s television commercial for Grape Nuts cereal featuring natural foods guru Euell Gibbons who always asked us the same question: “Did you ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible.”  No, to this day I’ve never eaten a pine tree but I have eaten raw kelp.  The noodles are clear and non-threatening and enjoyably crunchy. 

"Did you ever eat a pine tree?"

Of course, a quick Google search for kelp benefits can take you on a crazy ride from reputable sites like WebMD to a YouTube video wherein a lady uses nori (sushi wrappers) as a facial mask.  Yep.  The consensus seems to be that kelp consumption boosts mineral intake and benefits the thyroid due to its high iodine content.  Of course the low-carb, low calorie, no fat aspects are obvious.  So here goes.  Buckle up, kelp virgins.  You will be pleasantly surprised.

Kelp Noodle Salad

1 package raw kelp noodles, rinsed (½ a package makes two generous servings for us)

1 bunch scallions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped
5 thin slices fresh ginger, chopped

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

3 tablespoons soy sauce

¼ cup sesame seeds, toasted
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (more to taste for spicy food fans)
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 tablespoon sesame paste (tahini)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 carrot, chopped into ½ inch pieces
½ cucumber, thinly sliced
1 piece of nori (sushi wrap), cut into small strips for garnish

Rinse kelp noodles under cold running water. Set aside to drain.

Combine scallions, garlic, ginger, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame seeds, and red pepper flakes in a container and gently stir to mix evenly. 

Add peanut butter, tahini, and cucumber slices.  Mix to coat all ingredients.

Cut noodles into 2-3 inch segments, adding them to salad dressing mixture. 

Add chopped carrot and stir to mix everything together.  Top with nori strips.  Eat!