A big tangled pile of dulse sits in my food processor. I add chopped garlic, tamari, olive oil, dijon and a splash of vinegar and pulse it all together. I’m making caesar salad for dinner tonight. I have lots of romaine in the fridge, the one lettuce that everyone seems to agree on.
I was inspired to make ‘dulse’ caesar after coming across Bonberi, a cool little ‘vegan bodega’ in the West Village. My friend Eshun and I wandered in when in NY last month. We peeked around, taking in the organic produce, flavoured coconut butters, single origin turmeric, wooden dish scrubbers, stuff like that. The owner, a young mother who cooks vegetable-packed meals live on Instagram most nights, was sitting in the window working on her laptop, wearing torn levi’s and a vintage beaded blazer. I’ve noticed one of her go-to salad dressings is a dulse caesar, and sure enough, there on the shelf next to clean beauty products and pink sea salt, were bags of dulse.
My parents eat dulse straight up, as if they’re eating a bag of chips. It’s a sight to behold; the size of the leaves, the soft chew, requires one to shove it in, almost like it’s cotton candy. There’s usually an eye flicker at this moment or a full-mouthed smile. Dulse reminds them of childhood and long family drives along the ocean.
I’ve been blending dulse into foods the last few years, trying to get this salty, healthy, sustainable treat into our diets whenever I can. I sub dulse for nori when making furikake to sprinkle over buttery popcorn. I’ve blended it into butter with lemon zest and melted it over haddock. And now, it’s sliding in for anchovies in caesar salad dressing – the perfect amount of ocean without being fishy. I’ll add some roasted chickpeas to the salad too. I’m all out of bread for croutons, but these chickpeas are crispy and garlicky; not far off.
The dulse I’m using comes from Grand Manan, an island in the Bay of Fundy off the coast of Maine and New Brunswick. The tides that rush past this island are the highest in the world. This red ‘sea lettuce’ grows from a ‘steadfast’ on a rocks beneath the surface. I’ve read that its flavour and health benefits come from the tenacity required to stay attached despite the cold, swirling tides. You can eat it fresh from the water, but here in the Maritimes it’s usually dried first in the sun by harvesters – traditionally right there on the dock, or on rocks – then packaged and sold.
And there is was, on the shelf of a vegan bodega in Manhattan.
It’s an incredible thing when a humble ingredient from your past becomes appreciated globally. My kids won’t eat it like my parents did; they think it’s gross. They’ve already tasted the sweet nectar of actual chips, and it’s hard to go back. But it’s our food, from this place. So I will blend it into things, just like I did with vegetables when they were babies. They’ll be fuelled by vitamins and minerals, unbeknown to them. They’ll taste a familiar saltiness that they can’t quite put their finger on and I’ll just smile and shrug. You can’t tell someone to be proud of where they’re from. It has to come on your own, perhaps on a trip to New York, when you’re cruising around the West Village.
Creamy Dulse Caesar
This salad dressing, a take on the Bonberi version, slides dulse in for anchovies in a caesar-inspired salad dressing. It was more of a ‘use what you have’ than a vegan move, but this twist does make the dressing accessible to everyone.
For the dressing – yield 1/2 cup / 125 ml
1/3 cup (a few leaves, or to taste) dulse – drier leaves will blend better in the food processor – leave leaves out over night, or sauté quickly in a dry fry pan
1/4 cup (75ml) olive oil
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
juice of 1-2 lemons
1 tablespoon tamari
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
freshly cracked pepper to taste
For the salad:
2 heads of romaine lettuce, cleaned and chopped
(I also used a handful of mixed greens in the above salad)
roasted chickpeas – recipe below
Combine all dressing ingredients in a food processor. Blend until dulse breaks down and dressing is creamy and smooth. The softer the dulse, the more chunky the dressing will be. That’s ok, taste will be the same.
Combine lettuce(s) in a salad bowl. Toss with dressing to taste (store remaining dressing in the fridge for up to 1 week). Top with toasted chickpeas (store remaining chickpeas in an airtight container for up to 1 week). Finish with some cracked pepper and enjoy.
Chickpeas slide in for croutons here – they’re crunchy, salty an garlicky with a tiny kick of heat.
1 540 ml (19fl oz) can chickpeas
1 fat clove garlic
1 teaspoon coarse or flaky sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper – or to taste
Preheat oven to 200C / 400F.
Drain, rinse and blot chickpeas with clean kitchen towel. Scatter chickpeas on a baking tray and set aside. Roughly chop garlic then sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Using the side of your knife, push salt into the mound of garlic, again and again, back and fourth until the garlic becomes soft and a paste is created. Drizzle olive oil over chickpeas and sprinkle with cayenne pepper. Scoop up garlic paste and using your hands, coat chickpeas with garlicky mixture. Wash hands (they will be oily!) then slide roasting pan into preheated oven.
Roast for 20 minutes, stirring every so often, until browned and crunchy. Set aside to cool.