Want to eat some seaweed?

How about trying high-flavor, low-calorie sea vegetables instead? Ah, that's better, right?

John Sugimura, creative managing partner of newly opened PinKU Japanese Street Food, admits that converting people to eating green stuff that's been pulled from the ocean can often be a tough sell, no matter what you call it. Even though sea vegetables are (surprise!) just seaweed with a fancy new name, the heightened interest in superfood eating has rocketed these green beauties to featured spots on TV cooking shows, trendy restaurant menus and even as replacements for the once-ubiquitous bag of chips in many schoolkids' lunches.

Sugimura is convinced that tasting is believing. That's why he often slips dashi and wakame into his go-to potluck vegetarian stew. Once the raves begin, he reveals the secret ingredients, then stands by to provide quick tips and handy ideas for those who are intrigued enough to want to start using sea vegetables in their everyday cooking.

"For a long time, they've been my quiet little secret," he says. "I'm glad to know that sea vegetables are starting to get more attention, though, because they really are incredible."

Sugimura teaches monthly cooking classes on Japanese cuisine at Cooks of Crocus Hill. He's traveled extensively in Japan and holds advanced chef certification from the Sushi Institute of America. And while he clearly loves just about every aspect of Japanese cuisine, he admits to a special fondness for sea vegetables.

Forget mac and cheese. Try kombu noodles.

"I love junk food, and I struggle with my weight," Sugimura says.

"But sea vegetables help me feel satisfied and make good choices. I make myself a midnight snack of egg noodles boiled with a square of kombu and topped with cucumbers and a splash of soy sauce. It could just as easily be mac and cheese with hot dogs sliced on top, so this is a pretty good alternative, and it's really delicious."

Sugimura recommends sea vegetables for anyone seeking maximum flavor with minimal additional fat or processed ingredients. These green wonders carry a hefty nutritional wallop and are packed with iodine, fiber, essential amino acids and vitamins A, B, C and E.

"Just sprinkle sea vegetables into meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner. It's like a secret weapon," he says. "You can put it in kids' meals and they'll never know it's there, just that their rice or soup or eggs are delicious."

While many of us are familiar with the sheets of nori that traditionally wrap sushi rolls, there's a much wider world of sea vegetables from which to choose. Sugimura suggests starting with a trip to an Asian market, or even your local grocery store.

"Look for products imported from Japan and distributed in California. If you see Texas or Iowa named as a distribution point, it's probably not an authentically Japanese product," he says.

When you bring them home, take sea vegetables out of their cellophane bag and transfer them to a freezer-safe container. "Freezing keeps them at their peak of flavor, and you'll always have a vegetable on hand," Sugimura says.

Rehydration is simple. Start with a large bowl to allow room for expansion, add the desired amount, cover with room-temperature water and soak for 5 to 10 minutes. "If you keep them in too long, they'll release all their flavor into the soaking water and get slimy," he warns. Once they're rehydrated, you can stir them into rice or soup, include them in a stir fry, sauté them with mushrooms for a protein topping or blend them into green smoothies.

Choosing sea vegetables over junk food as a snack may seem counterintuitive, but Sugimura swears they'll win you over. "A little bit of wakame adds the flavor equivalent of a whole bunch of high-fat Gouda," he says. "When I cook with sea vegetables, I can use much less fat and make better choices."

Wakame, Carrot and Bean Stew

Serves 6

Note: Find wakame in Asian markets, food co-ops and some supermarkets. From John Sugimura of PinKU Japanese Street Food.

• 1/2 c. wakame (see Note)

• 1 tbsp. olive oil

• 1 small yellow onion, diced (1/2 c.)

• 2 small carrots, diced (1/2 c.)

• 1 celery rib, diced (1/4 c.)

• 1 (15-oz.) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

• 1 1/2 c. frozen baby lima beans, thawed

• 6 c. dashi seaweed broth (see recipe)

• 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper, optional


To prepare wakame, place in small bowl, cover with cold water and soak 5 to 10 minutes, or until soft. Drain, squeeze out liquid, and set aside. Chop finely.

Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, carrots and celery, and sauté 3 to 5 minutes, or until tender. Add cannellini beans, lima beans and dashi seaweed broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, 10 minutes.

Transfer approximately half of soup to food processor, and purée until smooth. Stir mixture into remaining soup in pot. Cook 5 minutes more. Stir in cayenne and wakame.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories150Fat3 gSodium340 mgSaturated fat0 g

Carbohydrates24 gTotal sugars4 g

Protein8 gCholesterol0 mgDietary fiber6 g

Exchanges per serving: 1 ½ carb, 1 lean protein.

Dashi (Seaweed Broth)

Makes 6 cups.

Note: Dashi is one of the culinary cornerstones of Japanese cooking. "The resulting clear broth tastes like the essence of the sea," says John Sugimura. Bonito flakes are made from dried, fermented and smoked skipjack tuna. Bonito flakes and kombu can be found in Asian markets, food co-ops and at some supermarkets, including Whole Foods Market.

• 6 c. water

• 3 (2-in.) pieces kombu

• 1 1/2 c. loosely packed dried bonito flakes, optional (see note)


Combine water and kombu in a 2-quart saucepan and warm over medium heat. As liquid warms, remove kombu as water reaches a simmer, but before it comes to a boil. (Boiling the kombu can make the broth bitter.)

Add bonito flakes, if using, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let bonito steep in the broth for 5 more minutes. Strain the bonito flakes from the broth.

Nutrition information per 1 cup:

Calories1Fat0 gSodium20 mgSaturated fat0 g

Carbohydrates0 gTotal sugars0 g

Protein0 gCholesterol0 mgDietary fiber0 g

Exchanges per serving: free.

'Destarched' Egg Noodles with Cucumber-Wakame Salad

Serves 4.

Note: Do not salt cooking water as the dashi will add the necessary flavor to the noodles. "Cooling noodles after cooking and reheating them in liquid results in a less starchy pasta," says John Sugimura. "This is a perfect small side dish — easy to make, healthy to eat and very refreshing." From Sugimura.

• 4 c. (1 quart) water

• 6 c. dashi (seaweed broth; see recipe)

• 4 oz. egg noodles

• Cucumber-Wakame Salad (see recipe)


Combine 4 cups water and dashi in large pot and bring to boil. Add egg noodles and cook for 6 to 8 minutes. Drain liquid into large container and reserve. When cool, place in refrigerator for at least 20 minutes and as long as overnight.

When ready to serve, place reserved liquid in large pot and reheat to simmer. Add noodles. Allow to simmer only until noodles are warmed, 3 to 5 minutes, then drain. Place on salad plate and top with Cucumber Salad (recipe follows).

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories130Fat2 gSodium140 mgSaturated fat0 g

Carbohydrates23 gTotal sugars5 g

Protein4 gCholesterol20 mgDietary fiber2 g

Exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 1 starch, ½ fat.

Cucumber-Wakame Salad

Serves 4.

Note: Find wakame in Asian markets, food co-ops and some supermarkets. Japanese cucumbers are much skinnier than American ones, with thinner skins and fewer and smaller seeds. If they are not available, use English or Persian cucumbers. From John Sugimura.

• 1 to 2 tbsp. wakame (see Note)

• 3 Japanese or 4 English or Persian cucumbers (see note)

• 1/4 tsp. salt

• 3 tbsp. rice vinegar

• 1 tbsp. sugar

• 1/4 tsp. soy sauce

• 1 tsp. sesame seeds


To prepare wakame, place in small bowl, cover with cold water and soak 5 to 10 minutes, or until soft. Drain, squeeze out liquid, and set aside. Chop finely.

Slice cucumbers thinly. Place in bowl and stir in salt. Let sit for 5 minutes. Gently squeeze water from cucumbers and set aside.

In small bowl, mix rice vinegar, sugar and soy sauce until sugar dissolves. Add mixture to cucumbers and mix well. Stir in sesame seeds and wakame.

Divide into 4 portions and place atop cooked noodles.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories30Fat1 gSodium130 mgSaturated fat0 g

Carbohydrates6 gTotal sugars4 g

Protein1 gCholesterol0 mgDietary fiber1 g

Exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable.