FEATURE INGREDIENT: a very special seaweed

January 29, 2010

Inspired by a question I received today via email, I have chosen to feature a decidedly un-glamourous ingredient: seaweed.

I should be more specific, though. The word seaweed encompasses a huge variety of edible plants. A post about seaweed would be as misguided as a post about vegetables (have a day or two to read, anyone?).

So, today’s feature ingredient is: Konbu. Otherwise known as Kombu, Dashi Konbu, or dried kelp. Konbu is most well known as one of the foundation flavours of Japanese cuisine. Its naturally-occurring salts contribute a full delicious flavour to any food it is cooked with. In fact, MSG is derived from konbu. But do not, I repeat, do not let that dissuade you! With konbu, you get all the flavour benefits of MSG, and none of the side effects.

Konbu is also an excellent digestive aid for grains and beans. This is a bonus for us and for our loved ones. I won’t say it out loud, but you know what I am talking about. I always put a strip of konbu in my pot as I am cooking dried beans. It provides flavour, helps the beans to cook more quickly and evenly, and its special mineral salts (via some magic ability I can’t explain) help so much with the digestion of those beans, the “musical fruit”.

However, the best use for konbu, by far, is in the making of dashi. Dashi, a special soup broth or stock, is one of the essentials of authentic Japanese cuisine. If you have ever wondered why you can never get your miso soup to taste like the one at your favourite sushi bar, now you know: You have failed to use dashi.

My dashi recipe is posted at the end. A detailed how-to-make-dashi post, with tips, and pictures will come another time.  For now, I am sure you want to know: Where can I buy this amazing ingredient in Victoria? Well, here you go:

Sakura Japanese Products ~ 1213 Quadra Street ~ (250) 388-3636

Fujiya Victoria ~ 3624 Shelbourne Street ~ (250) 598-3711

Planet Organic Victoria ~ 109-3995 Quadra Street ~ (250) 727-9888

LifeStyle Markets  ~ 180 Douglas Street  ~ (250) 384-3388



4 cups water

Two 4-inch long pieces of konbu

1 cup dried bonito flakes

Use scissors to snip each piece of konbu in several places.  Place water and konbu in a 2-quart pot.  Let soak for 30 to 60 minutes, until konbu has softened and expanded.  Place pot on a burner and turn the heat to medium.  Heat until the water comes to a boil (this may take close to an hour), removing the konbu with tongs just before the water comes to a boil – watch it like a hawk in the last few minutes there. The lower heat allows the flavour of the konbu to better infuse the water.

Once the water has come to a boil and you have removed the konbu, add the bonito flakes.  Return to a boil and then immediately turn off the heat.  Skim off any scum, if you see any.  Add a pinch of salt to the water and let the stock sit for a few minutes until all the bonito flakes sink to the bottom.

Strain through a double-thickness of cheesecloth and discard the solids.  Use the dashi immediately or refrigerate for later use.  Lasts 2 or 3 days.


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