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-green 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 flavour.
In Japan, nori 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, wasabi, even chipotle pepper.
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 flavour 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.
For ideas for using nori, check out the Off the Beaten Aisle column over on Food Network: http://bit.ly/NGAZAp
NORI RED PEPPER OMELET
Start to finish: 20 minutes
2 sheets nori seaweed, toasted
Salt and ground black pepper
1 roasted red pepper
1 tablespoon butter
2 scallions, finely chopped
1/4 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 1/2 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, melt the butter. Reduce the heat to medium and add the egg mixture. 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 omelet 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 centre 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 per cent 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. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch.