A Martini with Homemade Roasted Seaweed


I’ve previously mentioned my liking for seaweed so I thought I would make my own to go with a martini.


After a fairly long walk on the Isle of Mull, I was looking around the beach for something edible to forage.


The tide was fairly high but there were several rockpools containing thick gutweed, as above.


This dark-green, grass-like seaweed lives in upper tidal areas, sometimes in pools, sometimes where streams meet the sea.


I harvested a small amount by hand, being careful not to take too much from the same pool. I squeezed them of liquid then put them in a plastic bag and walked home with them. I then rinsed them thoroughly in clean water.


I patted it dry, then added about a tablespoon of oil and around a teaspoon of sea salt and mixed it in thoroughly.


I roasted it on a high heat for about 30 minutes, stirring it once to prevent it from burning on the top level.


I then served it as a messy but tasty and savoury nibble to accompany the evening’s martinis. It tasted like the deep fried seaweed you often get in Chinese restaurants, except that it was actually made from seaweed and was roasted rather than fried.


It also makes a good salty-umami condiment for things like mashed potato or other seafood dishes.


Once cooked it also keeps for a few days but you might want to dry it out thoroughly to make sure it doesn’t become soggy. 

I will definitely be making this again but remember to forage responsibly. Don’t take so much that you harm the ecosystem. Try to stick to clean coastal waters as well and be sure to rinse the seaweed thoroughly before cooking.

A Martini with Nori Seaweed

  

Our family is probably not alone in this matter: we adore crisps but recognise that they are evil.

  
To my American readers – I’m referring to what you call ‘chips’ or ‘potato chips’.  I could make some cliche comment about how you have abused our language but your people did invent the martini so I have to pay at least some deference to your culture. Nonetheless, I will continue to refer to these things as crisps in my blog and you cannot stop me.

  
Crunchy, tasty, yet body-bendingly unhealthy, these snacks pose a real threat to your life. They are so convenient to pick up at the shops. They can sit in a cupboard, just waiting for their moment to strike. An impromptu visit from a friend, a much-needed drink at the end of a long day, you find them welcomingly waiting to be tipped into a bowl and devoured. And with all their salt, flavouring and fat, they can taste amazing.

  
But they are so unhealthy. It’s almost always a case of “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.” They’re not exactly the sort of thing you would chuck in a smoothie.

So I’ve been looking for things to replace crisps as a martini accompaniment. Martinis themselves aren’t exactly an elixir of healthy living either but at least by cutting out the crisps you can minimise the comprehensive damage you could otherwise be doing to your body.

  
My brother, who is a body-builder and very good at nutrition (most of the time), brought back these snacks from the mainland.

Actually made in South Korea, they are originally a Japanese style of snack made from Nori seaweed.

  
Nori is specifically a type of algae, harvested, shredded, flattened and dried in a preparation technique reminiscent of papyrus but more closely based on Japanese paper production.

It is familiar to most people who have eaten sushi as it is used to wrap maki rolls among other things. It is also similar to a well-known (and highly tasty) dish in Wales – laver.

  
Indeed while seaweed today is usually regarded as a health food from Asia, it actually formed a very traditional part of coastal British diets for centuries. The Welsh have defended its value as a tasty source of nutrition over the years. I am writing this at home in the Hebrides where seaweed was once seen as a staple, especially during times of hardship and poor harvest on the land. As a crop, it is available all year round – so long as you are able to withstand the temperature of the sea.

Luckily it is making a bit of a comeback. Hebrideans are once again turning to our rich, clean waters for sustenance. It still isn’t common but it’s not unknown. 

Please excuse me while I shed a tear of pure joy.

Returning specifically to the history of Nori, I was struck by a fascinating story, involving a remarkable and surprising northern English lady who defied sexism in science and cross-cultural barriers to change the Japanese seaweed industry and our understanding of the food today.

  

Seaweed yields were falling in post-war Japan when Lancashire scientist Kathleen Mary Drew-Baker stepped in to provide her research on the lifecycle of algae. Armed with this knowledge, Japanese harvesters optimised their techniques to maximise the production process and the industry flourished. 

Every year on the 14th of April a ceremony is dedicated to Dr. Drew-Baker in Osaka. She is referred to as The Mother of the Sea in recognition of her work for the seaweed industry.

So back to martinis…

  
I served some of the nori sheets as a simple snack.

They were slightly large so I lay the slices on top of each other and used scissors to cut them into four pieces so they would fit into my mouth easily.

  
They also make an interesting, if slightly flamboyant garnish.

With salt and sesame oil they were very more-ish and made a nice accompaniment snack. Their slight fishy taste might not appeal to everyone but I am a committed fan of seafood and think it compliments a martini very well.

However, these nori sheets in particular have quite a high fat content so they might not be a million miles better than crisps after all. It might be worth using ordinary sushi nori sheets instead. Cut one or two into bite sized pieces before serving.

Nonetheless, I like these little bites and will be nibbling on them again.

Bar Arabica, Borough Market, 2/5

A relatively pleasant martini was let down by bad service and poor value for money.

 

It wouldn’t take much to perfect their martini but some of the fundamentally poor elements of the restaurant will be more difficult to rectify.

  
Nestled under a railway arch in Borough Market, I had high hopes for this Levantine restaurant. However, the service wasn’t particularly attentive, the portions were small and the martini didn’t do it for me.

  
I was looking forward to a tasty za’tar man’oushe, even though I have regularly been warned that you just can’t get good Lebanese food in London. Sadly it didn’t match my Beiruti experiences. It was a little dry and lacking in fresh ingredients.

  
Other portions were small and not cheap, although we did like boregi (essentially the same as börek – a spinach and feta pastry) which was crunchy and satisfying.

  
The atmosphere was pleasant, with the rumble of trains and nice lighting, but some of our dishes were forgotten. Indeed we felt somewhat forgotten on occasion.

When I asked about the gin used in their martini I was told it was a home-made compound gin, but the waiter couldn’t tell me anymore about it.

  
It arrived chilled but not especially cold, in a coupe glass, with a strip of lemon peel. As always, I feel the need to urge London restaurants serving martinis to keep their gin and glasses (martini glasses, not coupe glasses!) in the freezer.

However, this martini was redeemed by its particular lemon flavour – it was especially citrusy which I like. The gin did not seem especially dry, which was perhaps a blessing considering its temperature, but all in all it wasn’t unpleasant.

 
So what to do? Larger portions would be nice. If you’ve ever eaten in the Middle East you will realise that it’s rare to leave a meal without feeling utterly stuffed and potentially in pain from your host’s kind and generous hospitality. This was not the feeling I had at this Levantine restaurant.  More generous portions and attentive service would be in order. Then keep the homemade gin in the freezer and serve it in a proper martini glass.

Even More Martini Snacks

Here is some more food to go with your martini. I like to go with things that are simple to make (or that you can make in advance), easy to eat and either carbohydrate or protein based, especially on the savoury side of things.

 
Let’s start with some simple pretzels. 

  

And move on to some sliced chorizo, here rolled and skewered to make ‘dragonfly’ type bites.

  

Or to keep it simple, just slice the chorizo and serve it with on its own or as I did here, with miniature oatcakes.
  
Here is some sliced, cold roast pork, left over from the previous night’s dinner. Leftovers can make some surprisingly appropriate accompaniments for martinis sometimes, even though they might not always look very glamorous. 

  

Slightly more indulgent, here are some pork gyoza (dumplings) served with chives and a soy/vinegar/mirin dipping sauce. You can make them yourself, buy them ready-prepared and steam them or you could even have them delivered as takeaway food (the author might have done that on this occasion).

 
Pickled gherkins, Bombay mix and Japanese rice snacks combine three completely different cuisines. They don’t go together spectacularly well but it doesn’t matter too much once you’re on martini number two. It’s also useful if ou have several guests with different preferences.

  
This is a very simple tapas-inspired appetiser of cheese and tomatoe purée roasted in the oven for a few minutes.

  
Even something as simple as sausages go nicely. I prefer gamier types of sausage to go with juniper-strong gins.

  
Here are some Pringles. Everyone likes them so just get over yourself. I also like the argument that Pringles are the only crisp manufacturers that don’t sell you lots of air in their packaging. 

  
More crisps, here served with a classic martini containing a Rosemary garnish.

  
Nachos. Go well with dips and pair nicely with a coriander martini.

 

Here is some beetroot and salmon ceviche with leche de tigre, Korean-style wilted spinach, tsukemono and green tea. I didn’t actually serve this dish with a martini but its constituent parts make good accompaniments.

You can see more about the Ceviche and Leche de Tigre and it’s possible combination with a martini here (this is a personal favourite of mine).

You can see my thoughts on green tea and martinis here.

My Korean spinach recipe is here.

And my tsukemono recipe is here.

  
If you don’t want to prepare anything, Bombay mix is a handy and traditional drink snack.

  
Here are some Nocellara olives served with a Japanese pickled ginger martini.

 
Here are some roasted soy beans and black bamboo charcoal peanuts.

  
Here are some peanuts, “pork floss” / Rousong (I didn’t know what it was at first either but it’s tasty) and my own carrot San Bai Zu.

 
Fish floss also exists but it won’t be to everyone’s taste. I thought it tasted like fish food but it goes quite nicely sprinkled over thick tofu slices in miso soup.

  
Otherwise, I prefer to keep it simple. Here are some salted pistachio nuts in their shells.

 
Sun-dried tomatoes and olives stuffed with anchovies.

  
I’ve previously mentioned that martinis go very well with seafood. Here are some locally caught mussels served in a cream and onion sauce in the garden.

  
Here are some scallops and prosciutto.

  

Let’s go back to mystery pork products. There is quite a lot of pork in this entry even though I don’t actually eat a lot of it. These are honey roasted pork pieces. Given the unknown ingredients they could even be kosher/halal, we just don’t know.

 
However, I must admit, they were quite tasty.

  
Here I served the pork with walnuts and olives.

   
It kept us going for at least one round of martinis.

  
Here is some of Mum’s homemade herb butter to be slathered on some tasty rare steaks.

 
I guess it’s less of a snack and more of a meal…

But it certainly went well with a martini.

  
Barbecue and steaks in general go very nicely with or immediately after a martini.

  
Bruschetta… Not my most artistic photo but it was tasty.


Here is some salmon carpaccio, with lemon juice, grated lemon and orange rind, herbs, capers and juniper berries. I evidently still need to work on my presentation but it tasted nice enough and nobody died.

  
If you prefer your salmon cooked with heat I marinated some in a little rice vinegar for 30 minutes then grilled it for 16 minutes on a high heat.
And I think that’s quite enough for one blog post…

Until the next one!

Korean spinach – Sigeumchi-namul

Annyeonghaseyo.

  

This is a really tasty, easy and even healthy vegetarian dish that you can serve as a vegetable side, a starter or, most importantly of all, as an appetiser to accompany a martini (obviously).

I first ate this delicious dish in Koreatown, Manhattan. Of all the wondrous and unusual dishes I gluttonously consumed that night (my favourite being a gigantic simmered squid, still sizzling in savoury sauce with brown sugar lightly caramelising on top) this spinach starter is the easiest to put together, but with all things simple, it’s often easy to get it wrong.

I have made the following recipe to my own personal taste preferences so you might want to alter it to add more or less garlic, chilli, soy sauce or oil depending on what you like, but you don’t want to drown it, you don’t want it too oily and you don’t want the garlic overpowering the earthy taste of the spinach either. 

Also if a Korean ajumma tells you to make the recipe a different way, just do what she says.

Otherwise, you will need the following ingredients per person:

  • 200g fresh spinach leaves (around 7oz)
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds
  • A clove of garlic

(Simply multiply the above for the number of people you are preparing for).

  
Prepare the garlic first by peeling the number of cloves you want to use.

Here’s a tip: take the cloves you need and put them in the microwave on full heat for 2 seconds. No more! 

 

You’re not cooking the garlic in the microwave, you’re simply loosening the hard peel from the flesh. If you slice off the end now, you will find it much easier to peel.
Thinly slice then chop the garlic into fine pieces.


Here’s another tip: to wash off the garlic smell simply hang your hand loosely under a running tap of cold water so that the water runs down your fingertips and off the ends. Hold it there for about 20 seconds or so. This seems to wash off the garlic. It’s particularly effective if you have a stainless steel sink that you can rub your fingers on as well. 

Bring water to the boil in a large pan. Add the spinach and blanch for about 20-30 seconds.

It should turn a bright green. The volume of the spinach will also reduce significantly. If you are making this for a lot of people you might need to cook the spinach in batches.

When cooked, transfer immediately to a sieve and run under cold water to cool it thoroughly.

Leave it to drain.  

While the spinach is draining, mix the sauce by combining the garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil. 
Gently squeeze the spinach to remove excess water then transfer it to a chopping board and cut it up.
Transfer it to a large bowl (or you could reuse the pot that you cooked the spinach in if you’ve wiped it dry).

  
Add the sauce and mix it into the spinach (you can do this by hand but I used a teaspoon).

You can either serve it immediately or put it in the fridge to serve chilled later.

When serving, sprinkle sesame seeds on top. It is also common to add sliced spring onion as a garnish on top as well.

If you want to bulk it up with some nutritious umami I sometimes put a handful of dried wakame seaweed into a glass of water to soak for 5-10 minutes while making this dish. When you are about to chop up the spinach drain the seaweed and squeeze out the excess moisture and add it to the spinach to be chopped up with it.

If you want to be über nutritious lightly grind the sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle before sprinkling them over. If they are slightly broken it makes them more digestible and allows your body to absorb more of their nutrients.


Obviously don’t forget to pour yourself a martini (or some soju) when you serve this. Make sure you pour a large measure for any long suffering ajummas in your company as well. They deserve it!

 환호!

The Lorena-san Michelada

This is my Japanese variation of a classic Mexican drink – the Michelada. I have named my version after my friend from Mexico City who introduced me to the concept. It’s not a martini but hey – I can’t drink martinis ALL the time! Plus, summer is coming and this is a great summer drink.

It’s very similar to a standard Mexican Michelada, which is essentially beer, lime juice and some additional savoury and/or spicy sauces served in a salt-rimmed glass. The drink is comparable to a Bloody Mary and very good for a hangover or alcoholic rehydration on a hot day. However, the mixture for the glass rim in my version is heavily influenced by Japanese ingredients. If you can’t get hold of them, I recommend you try a more standard recipe with beer, Worcestershire sauce, lime and salt at the very least, so you can experience this wonderful drink. The ingredient combination might sound unusual, alien and even unpalatable to some of you but trust me, I’ve had lots of experience.

You might ask me why I would combine a Mexican recipe with a Japanese tang. Well, it’s mainly because I tried this and it worked. Otherwise though, Japan and Mexico have more in common than might meet the eye. Obviously both countries feature heavily in the Kill Bill franchise. Both countries also have extensive experience of earthquakes. If there’s ever a rumble and a shake of the earth your Mexican and Japanese friends will be the first to jump under a table – fact! However, most importantly for the sake of this blog, the cultures of both countries hold flavours and cuisine in extremely high regard.

Both Japan and Mexico are blessed with climatic diversity, which in turn has led to very distinct regional variations in things like agricultural produce and other forms of naturally available food. This in turn has led to the evolution of a rich assortment of cuisine specialities.

In the case of Mexico I think that the highly sophisticated cuisines do not receive enough international acclaim. I love Japanese food and I am very glad that it has received a lot of global recognition, evidenced not least by the multitude of Michelin stars awarded to Tokyo.

Mexican cuisine however, does not seem to have had the same international recognition. It appears to have been hijacked by numerous profit-making rip-off versions, selling a business model rather than genuine Mexican food. Of course, there are exceptions, particularly in the United States (and there are a handful in London) but it is far easier to find an authentic Japanese restaurant than it is to find an authentic Mexican one. I hope that in the future Mexican cuisine will be given the acclaim it deserves.

But I digress… here is my recipe.

Run a tall beer glass under a tap and place it in the freezer for at least 20 minutes (preferably longer).

  
Grind a pinch of sea salt, a pinch of furikake (a salty-umami Japanese seasoning), a pinch of caster sugar, a pinch of chilli powder and a pinch of sesame seeds with a pestle and mortar. 

Slice a lime or yuzu fruit. Rub one half over the rim of the glass. 

 
Rim the glass with the ground mixture. Save any leftover mixture for later. You will need the lime/yuzu as well.

Add the following to the glass:

The juice of 2 limes or yuzu fruit

A dash of hot sauce (I used Sriracha)

A dash of soy sauce

A dash of Worcestireshire sauce

And last but not least… A light beer!

You can add an ice cube or two to cool it down, or even better, use frozen lime or lemon slices.

 

Serve with the leftover salt/chilli/sesame/furikake mixture in a side dish. Lick your finger and dab it in to taste, as you would with some salt with a tequila.

Serve with a wedge or two of lime/yuzu as well.

And it will go with a wide range of izakaya-style snacks too.

¡Salud!

乾杯!

Y muchas gracias Lorena-san!


This post is self-indulgent

Nibbles
I don’t actually like the word ‘nibbles’. It sounds frightfully bourgeois. Nonetheless, it’s nice to have something to eat to accompany a martini, especially if it’s been a long day and you’re waiting for dinner. Here are some past examples.

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The root of all evil: carbs, fat and cheese flavouring, deep-fried.

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Langoustine with roe.

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Olives, of course.

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Nuts.

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You can’t go wrong with nuts.

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Even radishes.

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Grilled lobster for special occasions.

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This is some seared beef I made with a creamy sauce.

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More seared beef, with cucumber and a wasabi-yoghurt dressing.

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Crisps: more evil.

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Dad’s koi carp from the pond? No I’m just kidding. They’re practically my siblings.

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Grilled salmon skin with a sweet soy glaze.

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More olives, Nocellara this time.

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Bombay mix, peanuts and frozen blueberries.

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Wasabi peas.

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Mangoostine.

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It’s an unusual looking tropical fruit with sweet, white flesh.

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Look how cute they look.

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Croustades with lumpfish roe and dill.

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Sashimi with daikon relish and pickled ginger.

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Rolled spinach with miso and sesame sauce.

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Dry and desirable: like my character, but not like my liver.

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Pate and chives on oatcakes, with lots of olives.

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Japanese ‘izakaya’ styled spring onions.

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Whatever you serve, it should compliment the martini.

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But don’t get so drunk you forget about the real food cooking in the oven.