Salicornia Virginica is a small, salt tolerant plant that thrives across the shorelines, wetlands and salt marshes of North America. Known by a number of names –including samphire, pickleweed and sea asparagus — this nutrient-rich green vegetable adds a not-too-salty crunch when served cold in sushi, or hot alongside a grilled steak.
Plus, if you know where to find it, it’s free. Shazzaam! Take that global marketplace.
A closely related plant, Salicornia Europaea, was widely cultivated in 16th Century Elizabethan England as a source of soda ash. Immigrant Venetian glassmakers used the sodium-rich ashes of the burned plant to produce their clear Cristallo glass, earning the plant the name glasswort. Prior to their arrival, it was said that the plant “hath no name in English.”
Somewhere along the line, they started eating it — Pickled Samphire is a long-standing bar snack in Norfolk — and now it looks like the rest of us may catch on to it too. This stuff is tasty!
Gomaae is a Japanese salad/side dish that basically translates as “sesame dressing.” Spinach is the most popular gomaae here in North America, but there’s nothing saying I can’t make my own version from the food I forage from the shore!
As for the sunflower sprouts and carrot — well, they add a fresh bite and some contrasting colour. You may choose something different. Let’s take a moment to come up with some other accompaniments for the sea asparagus:
- red pepper and cucumber
- shaved red onion and bean sprouts
- blanched potato and diced tomato
- smoked tofu and grated radish
What’s your Sea Asparagus Gomaae match up?
**Note added Mar 3, 2011: I recently substituted 1 tablespoon mirin for the 2 tablespoons of sake, and discovered an even more authentic flavour. My approach has always been ùse what you`ve got, so I leave you with options.
Sea Asparagus & Sunflower Sprout Gomaae
Yield: 4 small servings
|Sea Asparagus (Samphire)||2 handfuls|
|Sunflower Sprouts||1 handful|
|Carrot, julienned||1 handful|
|Sesame Seeds||¼ C||60 ml|
|Sugar||3 t||15 ml|
|Soya Sauce||1 T||25 ml|
|Sake (or Mirin)||2 T (1 T)||30 ml (15ml)|
C=cup t=teaspoon T=tablespoon ml=millilitres
Bring a large pot of UNSALTED water to the boil. Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice.
Add the sea asparagus to the boiling and cook until tender crisp, about 2-3 minutes. Quickly remove with tongs and immerse in the ice water to halt the cooking and preserve the bright green colour. Once cool, gently roll the sea asparagus in a clean towel. Squeeze gently and set aside to dry.
Grind the sesame seeds to a paste in a spice/coffee grinder or mortar and pestle. Dissolve the sugar in 1 tablespoon of very hot water. In a small bowl, combine the sesame paste, sugar, soya sauce and sake.
Toss the sea asparagus, sunflower sprouts and carrot with a small amount of dressing in a bowl. To serve, pile a small amount of the salad on each plate and drizzle with additional sesame dressing. Garnish with sesame seeds.
Leftover dressing will keep, covered, in the fridge for up to 5 days.