Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sea Asparagus (Sea Bean) Salt

Always keeping my eyes open for new types of greens, I was excited to find sea asparagus (aka salicornia, glasswort, pickleweed, sea beans) at my local grocery store (i.e., Safeway) of all places.

I'm pretty certain that I'm the only one who buys sea asparagus/beans.  People often stop me at the grocery store and ask what they are when I'm grabbing a handful.  I explain to them that they are sea asparagus/beans and are a bit salty and crunchy, which tends to elicit strange looks in return.

Sometimes I say, "here, give one a try", but have yet to get any takers.  And, whenever I check out, none of the cashiers seem to know what they are, nor anyone in the produce section now that I think about it.  They usually get rung up as small green beans (okay, that works).  Nonetheless, am quite glad to see them week after week. They have a crisp, clean texture, and a pleasantly salty taste (tastes like the sea).

I was interested to learn a bit more, so I did some research: salicornia or sea asparagus is not in fact a vegetable nor a type a seaweed, but a succulent herb that grows in salt marshes and near beaches. They are loaded with vitamins (especially vitamins A, B2, B9, and folic acid) and the antioxidant trimethlyglicene (TMG), which is thought to have anti-aging properties and a slew of other health benefits (I won't bore you with the details, but they pack a nutritional punch).

Sea asparagus can be eaten raw (used as a garnish on grilled fish or tossed in a salad), are often pickled, and can be lightly steamed or sauteed with garlic and a squeeze of lemon. If you find them a bit salty in their raw form, soak them in water for an hour or two to remove some of the saltiness. I love to simply toss them into a green salad for texture and a bit of salinity.  I've snuck some into salads I've made for dinner parties and they've received near unanimous praise. 

For other ideas on how to incorporate sea beans, check out this post and this post.  Or perhaps sea asparagus salt (I want to try this).  Finally got around to making a batch of sea asparagus salt; how cool, it's bright green in color (see photos below). 

Sea Asparagus (Sea Bean) Salt
Inspired by Honest Food
12 ounces sea asparagus (more or less as desired)

Blanch the sea beans by boiling them for 2 minutes, then placing them in an ice water bath (helps to retain the green color). Drain well.  Pat dry.

Dehydrate until completely dry and brittle; took about 10-12 hours at 105°F.  Place in a spice grinder and grind to a powder.

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