Saturday, July 22, 2017


Every now and then a new product or ingredient shows up in my kitchen to pique my culinary interests. This week my son Ben came home from a trip to Galicia and Asturias (northern Cantabrian coast of Spain) with a bagful of cans and jars of products made with algae and a cookbook to go with them.

Where seaweed is coming from--intertidal waters on the Atlantic coast of Galicia. (Photo by Ben Searl.)

Cocina con Algas (Cooking with Algae) is an introduction to seaweed cuisine published by Porto-Muiños, a small, family-run company in A Coruña that packages edible seaweed harvested in Galicia and products made with seaweed.

In the book's intro, the company’s owner, Antonio Muiños, enthusiastically relates the firm’s mission as to take seaweed out of the exotic and make a place for it in the everyday diet. He’s collaborated with two well-known chefs, Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch (Michelin-starred Disfrutar in Barcelona) who developed the recipes with the object of ending the prejudice that seaweed is only for Oriental cuisines and of bringing verduras del mar (“sea vegetables”) to a wider public.

Some of the seaweeds and products in the test kitchen of Porto-Muiño in A Coruña (Galicia). (Photo by Ben Searl.)

My adventures with algae began with processed seaweed products, packed in cans and jars, brought back from Galicia. I have wakame al natural; a Japanese algae salad (with three kinds of seaweed in a soy sauce dressing); mussels with wakame in escabeche. At my local health food shop I found a full range of dried seaweeds. I came home with a “starter kit” of sea spaghetti and kombu. 

The cookbook includes directions for preparing each of eight different seaweeds (in addition to sea spaghetti and kombu, they are sugar kelp, sea lettuce, wakame, Irish moss, nori and dulse).

Kombu requires 8-10 minutes soaking to rehydrate it, then 35-40 minutes cooking in water. Sea spaghetti, also known as "thongweed," long, brown “noodles,” requires 10 minutes soaking and only 10 minutes cooking. Both increase their volume about four times. Wakame needs 10 minutes to soak and 5 minutes cooking. It increases weight by ten times. (I used wakame canned in brine, so I didn’t need to soak and cook it.

How do they taste? Kombu has a pleasant iodine-y, seawater taste with a slight smokiness. It’s not at all fishy, but makes a good addition to soups and rice dishes in place of seafood. It’s chewy, in a nice way. The sea spaghetti is mild in flavor—sort of vegetable-y, think green beans and asparagus—with a texture like al dente linguine. Wakame has a delicate seafood taste, meaty texture and a slightly slimy consistency. Perfect in stews, I think.

Tips from the Porto-Muiño test kitchen:
•    Add a piece of seaweed to the pan when steaming open clams or mussels. Amazing flavor enhancer.
•    Spread dried seaweed (not soaked), such as sea spaghetti, kombu, sea lettuce, wakame, sugar kelp, nori or dulse, on a baking sheet and roast at 350ºF 5-8 minutes, or until very crisp. Break it up and crush in a mortar. Shake it through a sieve. Use the seaweed powder as a seasoning in place of salt. It goes well with eggs, fish and all vegetables.
•    After rehydrating sea spaghetti, drain it well, pat dry and toss in flour. Fry in olive oil until crisp and golden. ("Tastes just like chanquetes," says Ben.)

Here are some recipes adapted from Cocina con Algas.

"Russian" potato salad has pureed seaweed added to the mayo.

Filleted sardines are briefly baked with a filling of Japanese-flavored seaweed.

Noodles!--thin strips of squid, whole-wheat spaghetti and sea spaghetti (seaweed) with a garlicky ink sauce.

Potato Salad with Seaweed Mayonnaise
Ensaladilla Rusa con Mayonesa de Algas

Ensaladilla rusa, or “Russian” salad, is one of the most popular of Spanish tapas. It’s a salad of diced potatoes, carrots and peas dressed with mayonnaise. In this version, part of the mayonnaise is replaced with “tartare sauce” made with pureed algae.

I cooked the potatoes in a pan of boiling water with the kombu seaweed that I used to make the tartare sauce, adding the sea spaghetti for the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Serves 6 as a tapa or side dish.

1 ¼ pounds potatoes (2 large)
1 carrot
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup cooked or frozen peas
1 hard-cooked egg, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped red pimiento or piquillo pepper
2 tablespoons chopped scallions
1 tablespoon chopped sweet pickle
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
½ teaspoon or more salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup seaweed tartare sauce (recipe below)
Vinegar (about 1 tablespoon)
Chopped chives to garnish
Bread sticks or regañas to serve

Put the potatoes and carrot in a pan with water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are tender, 15-20 minutes, depending on size. Drain. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and cut them in ¾-inch dice. Peel and dice the carrot as well.

Place potatoes and carrots in a bowl and add the oil. Add the egg, chopped pimiento, scallions, pickle, parsley, salt and pepper and mix well.

In a small bowl, stir together the mustard, mayonnaise and tartare sauce. Add a little vinegar to thin the sauce. Stir it into the potatoes. Taste and add more salt or vinegar as needed. Chill the salad.

Serve the potato salad in individual tapa dishes. Sprinkle with chives. Accompany with bread sticks or crispy regañas crackers.

Tartare Sauce with Seaweed and Olives
Salsa Tartar con Algas y Aceitunas

This is my own version of a seaweed tartare sauce, an ingredient called for in the recipe for ensaladilla rusa (“Russian” salad) in the algae cookbook. The sauce is produced by the Porto Muiños company, but I did not have a sample of it.

This makes about 1 ¼ cups sauce, more than you will need for the potato salad. Use the rest as a dip, straight or mixed with mayonnaise. Suggestions from the cookbook are to use it with smoked salmon, on toast with fresh anchovies marinated in vinegar; with stuffed eggs; with potato foam.

I used three kinds of seaweed in the sauce blend--sea spaghetti on the left, kombu on the right and wakame below.

½ cup cooked kombu
½ cup cooked sea spaghetti
½ cup cooked wakame
1 shallot, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup pitted and coarsely chopped black olives
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Put the three kinds of seaweed in a blender or food processor and blend them until fairly smooth. Add the shallot, mustard, olives, oil, salt and lemon juice and process until sauce is very smooth.

Sauce keeps, refrigerated, for 1 week. 

Baked Sardines Stuffed with Seaweed
Sardinas al Horno Rellenas de Alga

Sardines with a Japanese flavor, seaweed stuffing and shitake sauce.

This recipe, straight from the cookbook, uses two prepared ingredients—Japanese seaweed salad (with sea spaghetti, wakame, kombu, olive oil, sunflower oil, soy sauce and sesame seed) for the stuffing and shitake mushrooms Japanese style for the sauce.

The recipe calls for the sardines to roast for only 2 minutes. I roasted them 3 minutes and they were barely done. Maybe the chefs intended for them to be raw-ish, a la Japanese.

Serves 2.

6 sardines
1 can Japanese algae salad (ensalada de algas a la japonesa Porto-Muiños)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 can Japanese-style shitake mushrooms
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
10 bean sprouts
6 sprigs of cress 

Use fingers to "unzip" the spine of sardines.

Remove heads, scales and guts from the sardines. Rinse them in running water. Using fingers, pinch the center spine of the sardine, carefully lifting it out. Cut away the spine at the tail. Use scissors to cut out the dorsal fin. Spread the sardines open and blot them with paper towels.

Open and drain the can of algae salad. Place a small mound of it in the center of each sardine. Fold the sardine over on itself to enclose the seaweed salad.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Season the sardines with salt. Place them on an oven sheet that has been lightly oiled.

Bake 2 minutes (raw in the center) or 5 minutes (done).

Open the can of shitakes and heat them in their juice.

Place 3 sardines on each plate. Divide the shitakes between them. Sprinkle with sesame seed and garnish with bean sprouts and cress.

Seaweed and Squid Noodles with Garlicky Ink Sauce
Tallarines de Alga con Tallarines de Calamares al Ajillo de Tinta

The chefs’ recipe for this dish calls for a Porto-Muiño product, a wheat linguine flavored with powdered nori. I didn’t have this specialty pasta, so I improvised, using half whole-wheat spaghetti and half sea spaghetti, the seaweed. I love this seaweed!

Squid ink adds extra flavor to this dish. You can use the ink sacs from fresh squid or, easier, frozen sachets of ink. Spoon the finished garlic-oil-ink sauce over the pasta. Don’t mix it, or it will blacken the noodles.

Serves 4.

1 ounce dried sea spaghetti
10 ounces whole squid, cleaned
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 cloves garlic, sliced crosswise
1 small chile
4 packets frozen squid ink
2 tablespoons water
4 ounces whole-wheat spaghetti or linguine
Chopped chives

Soak the sea spaghetti in salted water for 10 minutes. Cook it in boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain and reserve.

Cut squid into very thin "noodles."
Cut the body pouch of the squid open lengthwise. With a sharp knife, cut the squid lengthwise into very thin strips (1/8 inch wide). These are the squid “noodles.” Cover and refrigerate until ready to finish the dish.

Place ½ cup oil in a pan. Add the garlic and chile to the oil. Heat until garlic begins to fry and turns golden. Remove the pan from the heat and skim out the garlic and chile.

In a small bowl add the contents of the packets of ink to the water and stir to combine. Add the ink to the pan with the oil.

Cook the whole-wheat spaghetti in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Heat remaining ¼ cup oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add the squid and sauté just until it turns translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the cooked wheat spaghetti and the reserved sea spaghetti. Toss the spaghetti with the squid. Season with salt.

Carefully reheat the garlic-oil-ink sauce.

Divide the squid and noodles between four plates. Spoon the garlic oil over them. Sprinkle the reserved fried garlic on top. Sprinkle with chopped chives.

Tasting notes from my kitchen: 
I'm sprinkling that powdered seaweed on everything--corn on the cob, scrambled eggs, salad with tuna, green beans. Love it. It's intensely salty, but seems to enhance other flavors.

The only gripe I have about seaweeds is that they are drab brown, green, black in color. Can't really use it "straight" in place of mayo in the potato salad, because it would turn the potatoes grey.

I turned the leftover seaweed tartare into a sort of tapenade, by adding garlic, salt-cured anchovies and capers to the blend. Great as a dip or spread on toasts.

Sea spaghetti is going to be my new favorite no-carb dish! I was getting bored with zucchini noodles anyway. And that fried garlic sauce--just skip the ink--is so delicious.

Gatherers use a mesh bag to collect seaweed. "You just put on a wet suit and goggles and get in there." (Photo by Ben Searl.)  

More recipes with seaweed:
 More information about Porto-Muiños products and on-line ordering at

Saturday, July 15, 2017


Life is just ---

Not much in life is more pleasurable than a bowl of sweet red cherries. We’ve been enjoying the fruit since early June. But, as the cherry season draws to an end, I’m going beyond the proverbial bowl of cherries.

I don’t remember eating fresh cherries as a kid. But I absolutely remember cherry pie, a favorite for the Fourth of July, made with canned cherries. When I came to Spain and found fresh cherries in the market, I bought a cherry pitting device at the local ferretería (hardware store) and produced some pretty good cherry pies. Later, I went through a few seasons of making cherry clafoutis. (My trusty cherry pitter did double-duty as an olive pitter.) But mainly, I’m happy to just pop cherries in my mouth.

Spain is in the top ten of world cherry producers and exporters. More than a third of the crop is grown in the Valle del Jerte, in Extremadura (western Spain). More than two million cherry trees cover hillsides in this protected climate, creating spectacular sights when they blossom in early spring. Cherries from the Valle del Jerte have Protected Designation of Origin.

Picotas, on the left, are sweeter than cerezas, with stems.

Two kinds of sweet cherries are grown in Spain—picotas and cerezas. Picotas, which are picked without stems, are darker, sweeter, with a crisper texture than cerezas, which are picked with stems. Both are superb. The guinda is another name for cherry in Spain, designating the sour cherry.

For my cherry-themed dishes, I'm making cherry gazpacho--fairly traditional, but with cherries as well as tomatoes--and a cherry "ketchup" to serve with marinated pork tenderloin.

Cherries add a subtle sweetness to traditional gazpacho.

Tangy cherry ketchup is a perfect accompaniment to quick-cooking pork tenderloin. Add a cherry-inflected Garnacha rosado wine from Navarra for a lovely summer menu.

 Cherry Gazpacho
Gazpacho de Cerezas

Garnish the gazpacho with crispy croutons.

 Chef Dani García at his two-star restaurant in Marbella makes a cherry gazpacho served with a powdering of goat cheese and a sprinkling of pistachios. I’m using traditional croutons of fried bread, but adding non-traditional basil that seems to complement both the tomatoes and the cherries in the blend.

If you prefer a completely smooth gazpacho, sieve it after blending to remove tomato pips and cherry skins.

Serves 4.

Chill the gazpacho before serving.
10 ounces cherries
2 ounces crustless bread (2 thick slices)
2 cups chopped tomatoes
¼ cup chopped green pepper
¼ cup peeled and chopped cucumber
¼ cup chopped onion
1-2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
½ cup water
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Croutons of fried bread to garnish
Sprigs of basil to garnish

Useful tool--cherry pitter.
 Pit the cherries (you should have 1 ½- 2 cups)

Break up the bread and place it in a blender container. Add the pitted cherries, tomatoes, green pepper, cucumber, onion, garlic and salt. Pour over the lemon juice and water and allow the mixture to soak for 30 minutes to soften the bread.

Blend the mixture until quite smooth. Add the oil and blend again until the mixture is emulsified. (Gazpacho can be thinned with additional water, to taste.)

If desired, sieve the gazpacho mixture. Chill it, covered.

Serve the gazpacho with croutons and basil.

Basil is a nice complement to both tomatoes and cherries.

 Cherry Ketchup
Ketchup de Cerezas

A little tangy, a little sweet, cherry ketchup goes with many foods.

I'm serving this fruity, tangy ketchup with marinated pork tenderloin. But it would go well with turkey burgers or barbecued meat.

Ketchup should have a balance of sweet and tart. I found the cherries sufficiently sweet, so I added no sugar. After adding the vinegar to the pureed cherries, taste the mixture and add sugar to taste.

1 ½ cups pitted cherries
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
2-inch celery stalk
¼ cup water
Pinch cayenne
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
2 tablespoons wine vinegar

Place the cherries, onion, bell pepper, celery and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, 15 minutes until fruit and vegetables are tender. Discard the celery. Puree the cherries in a blender.

Return the puree to the pan. Add the cayenne, allspice, ginger, salt, sugar, if using, and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens, about 10 minutes.
Store the ketchup covered and refrigerated. Keeps up to one week.

Pork Tenderloin in Adobo Marinade with Cherry Ketchup
Solomillo de Cerdo Adobado con Ketchup de Cerezas

Pork tenderloins are rubbed with adobo marinade with oregano.

A friend gave me a bunch of fresh oregano picked just before flowering. The pungent fresh herb inspired this adobo marinade, traditionally used to preserve pork. Here, it’s a rub for flavor. Spread it on the meat and marinate, refrigerated, at least one hour and up to 24 hours. 

Picked before flowering, fresh oregano is incredibly pungent.

I used three small tenderloins, which cooked fast, fast, in the pan. If you’re using one big tenderloin, finish it in the oven.

Serves 4

1 ½ pounds pork tenderloin
8 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon smoked pimentón (paprika)
1 tablespoon oregano
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon + ¼ cup water
¼ cup white wine
Cherry Ketchup to serve

In a mini-processor, grind together the garlic, pimentón, oregano, salt and pepper. Add the vinegar, 1 tablespoon of the oil and 1 tablespoon water. Spread this mixture on the tenderloins. Place them in a non-reactive bowl or container. Cover and refrigerate.

(If you intend to finish the tenderloin in the oven, preheat oven to 400ºF.)

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet on medium heat. Sear the tenderloin until browned on all sides, about 4 minutes.

Scrape any remaining marinade into the skillet. Add ¼ cup water and the wine. Either place the pan in the oven or cover the skillet and cook on top of the stove until pork is done to medium-rare (145ºF internal temperature). (Small ones were done in 10 minutes.)

Place meat on a cutting board to rest for 5 minutes. Slice the tenderloin crosswise, Spoon some of the pan juices over the meat. Accompany with cherry ketchup.

Pork and fruity ketchup.

Saturday, July 8, 2017


Last week, while sizzling those lamb chops with whole cloves of new garlic, I recalled that the recipe, from my book Cooking From the Heart of Spain—Food of La Mancha, also appeared in Food & Wine magazine’s special Spain issue (February 2005). I contributed eight recipes to the regular section, “Fast.” (The section disappeared a few years back, replaced by “fast” dots in F&W’s Recipe Index.)

Most of my fast recipes were authentically quick to prepare; others were adapted to use prepared foods (i.e., canned beans) to replace long-cooked ones. All were loaded with Spanish flavor: Chicken Breasts with Anisette, Seafood Chowder with Sherry and Serrano Ham, Bean and Chorizo Salad with Olives (the complete list and links to the recipes are below).

Butter beans and clams flavored with sunny saffron.

One of them, Clams with Butter Beans and Saffron, is what’s for dinner today. The F&W recipe calls for shucked littleneck clams. I don’t get fresh shucked clams in my local markets in Spain, so I used fresh Manila clams (also known as Japanese littleneck clams, they are a product of aquaculture). Steaming and shelling them added to the 30 minutes of preparation time. I did that the day before cooking the dish.

To prep the clams: Soak 3 ¼ pounds fresh Manila or littleneck clams in lightly salted cold water for 1 hour to disgorge any sand. Drain and rinse them in running water. Place the clams in a deep pan and add 2 bay leaves and ½ cup water. Bring the clams to a boil, covered. Shake the pan to move the clams around, just until the shells begin to pop open. Use a skimmer to skim the clams out as they open. Strain and save 1 cup of the broth, discarding the bay leaves. When the clams are cool enough to handle, remove the meats from the shells and discard the shells. Makes approximately 1 cup of clam meats. Clams can be cooked and shelled a day before cooking the recipe. Refrigerate the clam meats and the reserved broth.


More of a stew than a soup, but light enough for summer.

Clam Meats and bits of ham contribute all the salt needed to flavor the beans.

Clams with Butter Beans and Saffron
Almejas con Alubias y Azafrán

Don’t add salt to the beans, as the clams and their broth are quite salty.

Serves 4.

3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
2 ounces chopped serrano ham (½ cup)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fine dry bread crumbs
2 15-ounce cans butter beans (not drained)
1 bay leaf
Pinch of thyme
Large pinch of saffron threads
2 tablespoons hot water
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup clam meats
1 cup clam broth
Chopped parsley to garnish

In a cazuela or deep skillet, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook over moderately high heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the ham and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the bread crumbs, then add the beans and their liquid along with the bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a boil.

A sofrito of onions, garlic and serrano ham plus saffron flavors canned butter beans.

In a small bowl, crush the saffron threads into the hot water. Add to the beans and season with pepper. Simmer the beans over low heat for 15 minutes. Add the clams and the clam broth and cook on medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley to serve.

FAST recipes that appeared in Food & Wine magazine:

More FAST recipes:

More recipes with clams: