Kombu is often referred to as the "king of seaweed," and is known as the secret ingredient that makes Japanese foods taste the way they do. This leathery seaweed, or sea vegetable, is commonly known as kelp. Strong in flavor, it is used as both a food flavoring and food tenderizer. Often it is used to make a Japanese cooking stock referred to as dashi. It is versatile, affordable and easy to cultivate and harvest. This sea vegetable is packed with protein, calcium, iodine, magnesium and iron. Kombu can be found in health food and Asian stores.
Wipe the kombu surface to remove the powder residue, using a damp cloth. Avoid excessive washing, since this will diminish the flavor. When using recipes that require soaking the kombu before preparing, soak only until it softens. Thicker kombu sheets or strips require more soaking time than thin pieces.
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Determine the amount of broth necessary for the recipe. For every 6 cups of water, use 1 ounce of kombu. Bring the water to a boil and boil kombu for 30 minutes. Remove the kombu. If the kombu is to be used as a flavor enhancer only, allow one or two strips of kombu to simmer in the liquid for 15 minutes before using the water as the base for soups, sauces or stews.
Serve the broth as it is, without additional ingredients, or over other foods such as vegetables, rice and grains. If consuming the kombu, cut it into small pieces after boiling. Kombu can be cut in strips and served as a wrap for seasoned fish or various vegetables. Small pieces make a tasty, nutritious addition to salads.
Store dried kombu in a dark, dry place in an airtight container. Store cooked kombu in the refrigerator in airtight containers. Properly made, it can be stored in the refrigerator almost indefinitely.
Kombu is typically available in dry sheets or strips for cooking, but can be obtained fresh or frozen. It is also available in shaved pieces seasoned in vinegar brine and cured and pickled, which is used as a food condiment or topping for grains and rice. Tea houses often offer bowls of pickled kombu to their guests.
When added to dried beans cooking in boiling water, kombu decreases the cooking time, thickens the broth and makes the beans easier to digest.