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If you’ve ever had a California roll, you’ve had nori.
Now it’s time to learn what else you can do with this ubiquitous yet always overlooked paper-like ingredient made from seaweed.
Nori — also called laver — is a somewhat generic name for a variety of seaweeds cultivated for use mostly in Japanese cooking. I say mostly because the same varieties are added to oatmeal in Ireland. But Americans know nori best as the paper-thin black wrapping used in sushi.
It is produced by washing and chopping fresh seaweed to create a slurry. That mixture then is spread thin, dried, cut into sheets and lightly toasted. The result is a crunchy, dark paper with just a hint of ocean flavor.
In Japan, it has a life beyond the sushi bar. It is consumed for breakfast with fish and rice, eaten as a snack dunked in soy sauce and used to wrap balls of rice.
In recent years, the snack approach has begun to catch on in the U.S. Nori now is sold in small potato chip-like strips, often seasoned with sea salt.
Most grocers sell packages of 10-inch sheets of nori, usually near the sushi or in the international aisle. It also is used in Japanese snack cracker mixes.
Nori sheets usually are sold pre-toasted; use them as-is for sushi. But when using the nori in other ways, toasting it briefly can improve the flavor and texture.
To do this, simply use tongs to hold the sheets one at a time over a lit burner (or candle if you have an electric stove). About 10 to 15 seconds will suffice.
What to do with it? Consider it a condiment or flavoring.
• Make a traditional Japanese condiment known as gomasio. In a deep skillet, combine 1 cup of sesame seeds, 2 sheets of nori (roughly crumbled) and 1 teaspoon of sea salt. Toast briefly over medium heat, then transfer to a food processor and pulse until the nori is finely chopped. Sprinkle the mixture over rice, stir-fries, steamed vegetables or soup.
• Briefly sauté halved cherry tomatoes and a diced onion in toasted sesame oil. Crumble in several sheets of nori, then season with salt. Toss with freshly boiled soba noodles. Finish with another drizzle of sesame oil.
• In a small bowl, mix together ½ tablespoon soy sauce, ½ tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar and 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Use a pastry brush to lightly brush the mixture onto nori sheets set flat on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F until crisp. Eat as a snack or crumble over a salad similar to croutons.
• For an easy party food, cut the nori into squares, then roll each square into a cone (using wet fingers to seal the edge of the cone). Fill each cone with crumbled goat cheese and a sliver of roasted red pepper.
Start to finish: 20 minutes
2 sheets nori seaweed, toasted
Salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 roasted red pepper
2 scallions, finely chopped
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Crumble or cut the nori into small pieces. In a medium bowl, combine the nori and eggs. Beat well, mixing in ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Set aside.
Use paper towels to blot away as much moisture as possible from the red pepper. Cut it into small chunks.
In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Reduce the heat to medium and add the eggs. Cook until the bottom is firm, about 4 minutes.
Scatter the red pepper and scallions evenly over half of the egg. Sprinkle the cheese over the vegetables.
Use a spatula to carefully lift the other half of the eggs and gently flip it over onto the fillings. Cover the pan and cook for another 6 to 7 minutes.
When the eggs are set at the center and the cheese has melted, cut the omelet in half and season with salt and pepper, as needed.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 370 calories; 210 calories from fat (59 percent of total calories); 24 g fat (10 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 670 mg cholesterol; 10 g carbohydrate; 27 g protein; 2 g fiber; 810 mg sodium.
J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He is the author of the recent cookbook High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking. He also blogs at LunchBoxBlues.com.