Seaweed Crackers

OUR guest speaker at a recent Slow Food event was Sally McKenna, author of Extreme Greens, a book about the magic of seaweed.

It was a riveting talk and us seaweed fans learned about such a nutritious form of life.

How fortunate we are in Ireland to be surrounded by 3,000 miles of coastline and a myriad of different seaweeds — all of which are edible even if some are not necessarily particularly palatable. Yet this basic fact comes as a complete surprise to many people.

Dilisk and carrigeen moss at least are familiar to some, the latter which means little rock in Gaelic is best harvested during the spring tides when the little rocks are exposed. Traditionally it was then laid out on the spongy grass on the cliffs to be washed by the rain and bleached by the sun, then it could be stored indefinitely.

What a powerhouse of minerals and trace elements. It’s scientifically proven to be beneficial for sore throats and chest infections, it also contributes to weight loss and breaks down fats which explains why Britney Spears, David Beckham and many other celebrities are big fans of seaweed.

But back to the extraordinary magic of seaweed.

If you are not already convinced of its health benefits let me share what Sally told us:

¦ Seaweed has twice as much vitamin C as orange juice.

¦ It has 10 times more calcium than cow’s milk.

¦ It has 50 times more iron than spinach.

¦ Seaweed is anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal.

¦ Seaweed is full of minerals, and contains all trace elements and energy needed for human life and health.

¦ It reduces craving for foods and blocks fat absorption in the body, cleanses our blood and stimulates our immune system.

¦ Seaweed is a valuable source of Vitamin B12.

¦ Seaweed is both prebiotic and probiotic — especially good for your hair or to give a glossy coat to your dog or horse.

¦ Seaweed is also an exceedingly valuable fertiliser.

¦ Seaweed has also been part of the Irish diet since prehistoric times.

The best time to harvest is between February and September but seaweed is particularly fresh and clean in the spring.

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Seaweed Crackers

Makes 60 approx

230g (8ozs) plain or spelt flour

20g (¾oz) rye flour

½ tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

40g (1¼ oz) butter

150ml (5 fl oz) milk

1 cup finely ground seaweed

Sesame seeds / fennel seeds (optional)

Measure out the flour, salt, sugar and butter into a bowl. Rub in the butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Measure out the milk, put it into the bowl and gather the mixture together with your hands. Knead and put it in the fridge to rest for 2 hours.

Lightly grease a tray and set the oven to 180C/350F/ moderate gas.

Flour a large workspace.

Cut the dough into 6 equal-sized pieces.

Press lightly on the piece of dough. Sprinkle on the seaweed and seeds and press again. Examples of combinations might be sea grass and fennel, or dried seaweed salad with sesame seeds.

Put through a pasta machine on the widest setting.

Lightly press in some more seeds or seaweed and roll again. Continue until the second last setting on the machine.

Cut into approximate squares, and place onto a tray, using a spatula to lift the delicate pieces.

Bake in the oven for approximately 10 minutes, until light brown. Cool on a wire tray.

Seaweed and Sesame Salad with Ginger Dressing

30g (1 oz) dry mixed seaweed (seaweed salad)

1 tsp grated fresh ginger

1 tbsp rice vinegar

1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp sugar

½ tsp salt (to taste)

1 tbsp sesame seeds

1 spring onion, finely chopped

Put the seaweed in a bowl and cover with water. Leave for five minutes to rehydrate. Dry in a salad spinner, or squeeze-dry between your fingers.

Grate a small amount of ginger into the bottom of a salad bowl and mix together with the vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar and salt.

Toast the sesame seeds briefly in a dry pan, and then add, along with the finely chopped spring onion. Toss the seaweed together in the salad dressing.

Dilisk and Rosemary Lemonade

We also loved this spritsy, rosemary-scented lemonade.

1 litre (1¾ pints) water

Handful of dilisk

3 sprigs rosemary

500g (18 oz) sugar

Lemons

Sparkling water or boiling water

Make a dilisk dashi by bringing the water and dilisk slowly to the boil. Remove the seaweed the moment the water comes to the boil (consign the boiled dilisk to the compost heap).

Add the rosemary and sugar to the seaweed water and, once again, bring very slowly to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Take off the heat, once it comes to the boil, and leave to go cold and then strain. This syrup forms the base of your drink. You can store it for a few days in the fridge and add the lemon juice and water as needed.

To make the lemonade, pour a little of the syrup into a glass. Add approximately half a lemon per glass and fill up with chilled, sparkling water, or boiling water to taste. The proportions are approximately five to one, water to syrup, or to taste.

Rhubarb and Bladderwrack Scones

Makes 10 scones

Sally brought these freshly baked scones for people to taste; they disappeared like the proverbial hot cakes.

3-5 sticks of fresh rhubarb

Quarter cup water

30g (1 oz) sugar

Dash of grenadine

350g (12 ozs) self-raising flour

1 level tsp baking powder

45g (1½ oz) caster sugar

1 tbsp finely milled bladderwrack

Nutmeg

75g (2½ oz) butter, chilled and cubed

150ml (5 fl oz) buttermilk

2 eggs, beaten

Flaked almonds

Slice the rhubarb thinly. Bring water and sugar to the boil to make a syrup. Add the rhubarb and poach for just a minute, until it comes back to the boil. Pour the whole lot into a bowl, and sprinkle over some grenadine to colour. Leave to cool in the liquid.

Heat the oven to 200C/400F and lightly grease a large baking sheet.

Sift the flour into a large bowl and sift in the baking powder. Stir in the sugar, the bladderwrack and grate in some nutmeg, to taste. Rub the butter cubes into the flour mixture lightly, until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Remove the rhubarb from its liquid with a slotted spoon, reserving the liquid for another use (like drinking) and gently stir into the mixture, using your hands.

Add almost all the milk and almost all the beaten egg, and gently bring the dough together with your fingers, then knead very lightly. The less you handle the dough, the lighter the scones will be. Use the remaining buttermilk to gather up any dry crumbs at the bottom of the bowl. Turn out onto a floured surface and press into a rectangle, approximately 2cm (¾inch) deep (they don’t rise very much). Brush with the remaining egg, and sprinkle over some flaked almonds. Cut into squares, or use a cutter to make circles.

Bake in the oven for approximately 15 minutes, before removing to cool on a wire rack.

Hot tips

I hear wonderful reports about the delicious afternoon tea served by the open fire in the drawing room at Knockeven House, Rushrooke, Cobh. Small or large groups are catered for. Phone Pam on 087-7454204 or 021-4811778.

Simnel cake for Easter: Time to make a Simnel cake for Easter, ice it with almond paste and decorate the top with 11 balls of marzipan to represent the apostles — Judas doesn’t make it to the top of the cake.

For recipe see www.cookignisfun.ie

Spring lamb for Easter Sunday: You’ll need to order immediately from your local craft butcher for Easter.

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