To health: New “discoveries” for fun and flavor
Nutritional adventures can take us to unusual places. Well, we aren't literally transported to exotic locales but still the excitement of discovery is a great reason to seek out new ingredients that add to our pleasure and mastery of the dark art of low sodium cooking.
It helps to look in the right spot for something novel. After all it's not very likely to be on display at your “mainstream” local grocery store. Of course it's possible and if it does happen it could be quite a good thing.
However on the whole looking in unfamiliar enviroments has a much higher probability of paying off. It's not too difficult if you live in a mid-size or large metro area with a good pool of “ethnic” residents. Shopping at such “foreign” markets is often very enlightening about the way people in other cultures regard food and its preparation.
In our city we really enjoy exploring the quite numerous markets that cater to Asian and Middle Eastern residents, serving a substantial population of first generation immigrants that grace our region. The range of origins is eye-opening. Among Asian arrivals we have Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Laotian, Japanese, Filipino, and other nationalities. Similarly middle-easterners include Lebanese, Syrian, Egyptian, Saudi, Israeli among the mix.
So it figures that the food stores these neighbors patronize carry an enormous spectrum of great delacacies to entice those of us looking for ways to expand our repertoire of flavor and yet maintain nutritional integrity. Of course what makes it fun to try things out is having little or no help making the translation from their expectations to our own kitchens. IOW we're pretty much on our own to glean how we use whatever we bring home.
Among the better discoveries has been the world of seaweed. Asians in particular are quite fond of “vegetables from the sea” and a notable array of options are available. One package of dried product is hard to distinguish from others based on the appearance of the product itself. No question it can get confusing.
Of course we were looking at the sodium content, relying on the package labels for guidance. Unfortunately serving size seems rather arbitrary, so comparisons, even among brands of nominally the same type of seaweed, require precaution. Considering where seaweed comes from, no surprise that seaweed is often high in sodium. But some are not and they're the real story here.
Two types are especially useful. A quite common type is popular in China, generally offered in wheel-shaped packages of 20-80 g. The species of seaweed is never given, the ingredient is simply called “seaweed” or “laver”. The seaweed itself is dried into 2-4 layers and generally is marked as having ~28 mg sodium for 5 g serving size. Anyway this great product is extremely valuable as a component of “Thinair Dashi” indispensable as a base for soups and sauces. At this point we wouldn't even try to get along without it!
The other seaweed is much harder to find. We happened to encounter it at a large Asian grocery with a large Vietnamese following. What we found was labeled as “Durvillea Antartica”*, an unusually shaped seaweed when rehydrated looks a bit like large earthworms. However it has a notable “seafood” taste and marvelous viscosity (due to its content of alginates) that make it a great addition to many dishes. It's wonderful in stir-fried main-courses, like our version shrimp and seaweed recipe.
Naturally the world of herbs, spices, vegetables, and fruits are a terrific resource to have in a community. But even if you're not so blessed to have such access at hand, the world of the internet is your friend who can bring many goodies to your doorstep. Try it out, who knows, you may very well discover some great things that you'll decide you really can't live without.
*Yes we know, “Durvillea” should be Durvillaea, but we don't hold it against the vendor, as it is they do much better than average in identifying what they sell.