Seriously Asian: Seaweed

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One of my favorite leafy greens isn't even a vegetable, in the typical sense of the term at least. It's harvested from the ocean rather than the ground—I'm talking about seaweed.

The oceanic qualities make it so distinctive and easy to prepare. Seaweed is naturally briny, already washed, and in its dried form can be rehydrated in water in a matter of minutes. What more could you ask from a plant?

Though much of our exposure to seaweed in the United States comes from from sushi rolls and miso soup, there's a range of ways you can eat it. Wakame, the type of seaweed most commonly found in miso soup, is also good dressed in salad form. Kombu, the thicker seaweed used in the Japanese preparation of dashi, takes on a tender, almost glutinous quality when simmered for soups and stews. (Kombu, when it's cooked and thinly sliced, can also be used in a salad preparation.)

My current seaweed favorite (and wouldn't it be nice if there were seaweed-of-the-month gift baskets?) is the long and straggly variety you'll find at Korean markets. It shouldn't be hard to find; it comes in packaged bundles at least two feet long. Dark brown or black when dry, the seaweed takes on a forest-green shade after getting soaked for a few minutes in water.

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Though I've tasted deep-fried, simmered, and steamed seaweed, the most direct way to enjoy this oceanic treat is to dress it with a simple vinaigrette. Since seaweed is so naturally briny and subtly salty, there's no need to go overboard with the flavoring. Simply coat rehydrated seaweed in a mixture of sesame oil, rice vinegar, salt, and a bit of sugar. Garnish with sesame seeds.

Best of all, seaweed salad is meant to be eaten cold or at room temperature, making it an ideal component in your bento box lunch.