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lasagna seaweed1
If you stroll along the seashore this summer, you’ll probably not give the seaweeds or grasses beneath your feet a second thought. They often look messy, and their muted colors certainly don’t catch the eye of beachcombers looking for seashells and other treasures. But they are worth a closer look…

sugar kelp

Sugar kelp (Laminaria saccharina) at Rainbow Haven Beach

This large seaweed looks exactly like the noodles used in lasagna, a dish first served by the Romans.  It is often washed up on Nova Scotia beaches during storms, but is also found on other Atlantic and Pacific coasts elsewhere in the world. 

The Italians cook so many different types of macaroni that were inspired by the sea.  The shells are obvious:  lumaconi (jumbo shells), conchiglie (medium shells) and lumachine (baby shells) among others.  Could lasagna noodles have been inspired by the sea as well?

Known as sugar kelp because of the sugar-like crystals that appear on its surface as it dries, this seaweed can been used as a weather predictor.  It will become soft and limp when rain is imminent, but dry and stiff when clear skies are on the horizon.  Regardless of the weather, it’s always a good time to enjoy lasagna.

irish moss

Irish Moss (Chondrus) and the rockweed Fucus on the shore at Rainbow Haven Beach

Irish Moss is another common seaweed found on our beaches.  Its reddish purple color is easy to notice among the many other types of seaweed.  If you eat ice-cream, you’ve most likely eaten Irish Moss.  It goes by the name of carrageenan on food labels.  Its gelling properties make it a popular thickener in many foods. However, some researchers have linked it to colitis and colon cancer in recent years.  Irish moss is raked in large quantities for commercial use on our shores.

eelgrass

Dried Eelgrass (Zostera) between rocks along the Salt Marsh Trail

Eelgrass is another sea plant that’s served an unlikely purpose. It was used as an effective insulator for many years and is still being replaced by newer forms of insulation between the walls of some older homes in Nova Scotia. For centuries it helped keep maritime homes warm and cozy while the winter winds howled outside.  It was once used to stuff mattresses as well.  These days it’s woven in some parts of the world for use in home furnishings.

These are just three of the many types of sea plants that wash up on Nova Scotia’s shores. Some, like Dulse and Ulva (sea lettuce) are eaten fresh. Dulse is also eaten dried and is easily found in local grocery stores. It was seaweed that kept many coastal people in Ireland from starving to death during the Great Potato Famine.

There’s certainly more to these sea plants than first meets the eye.

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Young Dandelion Leaves in the Lawn

Young Dandelion Leaves in the Lawn

Most North Americans think of Dandelions as weeds, not food.  Considering the state of our health, perhaps we should consider the benefits of this common plant.

You see here what virtues this common herb hath, and that is the reason the French and Dutch so often eat them in the spring; and now if you look a little farther, you may see plainly without a pair of spectacles, that foreign physicians are not so selfish as ours are, but more communicative of the virtues of plants to people.  

~  Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654)  English herbalist and physician

Dandelions have their uses in soups, wines and coffees but they render their greatest health benefits when served soon after picking in a raw salad.  In fact, the more quickly they can be brought to the table, the more nutrients will be present. 

This common plant is easily identified by the coarse toothed edges on the leaves which give them the name of  ‘lion’s tooth.’  Dandelion greens should ideally be picked in pesticide free lawns in early spring, prior to the blooming of the bright yellow flowers.  The younger leaves are less bitter than older ones. 

Here are comparisons of the nutritional values of 100gr of Dandelion greens with an equal quantity of other foods, known for their exceptional vitamin and mineral benefits:

Vitamin A:  Dandelions ~ 14,000 IU  /  Carrots ~ 11,000 IU

Potassium:  Dandelions ~ 397 mg  /  Bananas ~  370 mg

Iron:  Dandelions ~ 3.1 mg / Broiled beef ~ 3.9 mg

Calcium:  Dandelions ~ 187 mg / Whole cow’s milk ~ 118 mg

Dandelions in a Salad

Dandelion Greens in a Mixed Salad

If you find Dandelions too bitter to your taste, it may be best to introduce them into your diet in smaller quantities as shown in the salad above, where they are mixed with spinach, orange peppers and feta cheese, and drizzled with olive oil.

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