I’m feeling in an Asian food mood lately. Like many Americans I’m carrying a little too much weight, especially around the middle, so I’m going on an Asian diet, i.e., I’ll be eating and cooking Asian food for the next month.

I spent five months in Japan a few years back on a fellowship and, while I didn’t always know what I was eating, I loved everything I ate, except, of course, as I mentioned early in this blog, natto, the fermented soybeans that are high in protein, low in calories and very much an acquired taste . . . one I didn’t acquire

But while in Japan, I learned to love the many kinds of sea vegetables, a.k.a., seaweed. If you live in a large city or one with a significant Asian-American population, you’ll be able to find dry seaweed fairly easily. Otherwise, try shopping online, where, seemingly, the world’s food supply is available.

Seaweed is a perfect diet food. Low in calories, high in protein, fiber and minerals. You can eat a lot of this stuff without it showing up as excess on your waist.

Most seaweed is cooked, but if you’ve had sushi, you’re already familiar with laver, or nori, in its dry uncooked form. If you’ve had miso soup, the stock is made from konbu kelp and the slick green ribbons floating in the soup are usually wakame. And, if you’re a vegan, you probably eaten food thickened with agar-agar, a seaweed extract that is used like gelatin — an all-vegetable gelatin, of course.

My all-time favorite seaweed is hijiki, which is extremely high in fiber — almost 40 percent in its dry form. There is one caveat with hijiki. Four countries have issued warnings about hijiki’s above accepted norms of inorganic arsenic. That said, the tests are based on dry hijiki  — it’s always cooked — and you’d probably have to eat your weight in the stuff to do damage, but being American, we need to know this, since we tend to think that more is better. In any case, the traditional way of preparing hijiki — pre-soaking, rinsing, cooking — eliminates much of arsenic content.

If, however, knowing this is too off-putting, put off having hijiki.

Just remember, lots of foods contain toxins. There is cyanide in broccoli and Brussels sprouts, oxalic acid in spinach, solanine in potatoes, and celery contains psoralens, a group of substances that cause skin burns.

I say, live dangerously, eat your vegetables, starting with —

Hijiki-carrot salad

What you’ll need to make four servings.

    • 3/4 ounce dried hijiki
    • 4-inch square kombu*
    • 3 cups very hot water
    • 2 cups cold water
    • 1 small carrot
    • 1 scallion
    • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
    • 1/2 cup kombu dashi*
    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 1 tablespoon mirin (rice wine vinegar-no substitutes! Also available in Asian food shops or online)
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
    • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

You can make the kombu dashi the traditional way by soaking the kombu in 2 cups of water overnight, covered, in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can put the cold water and kombu in a sauce pan; let it soak for 15 minutes, then heat the water until bubbles break the surface. Stop. Discard the kombu. Remove pan from heat.

Heat a wide frying pan, toast sesame seeds until they darken slightly and are fragrant. Remove from heat.

Now, mix the dried hijiki with the 3 cups of hot water and let this sit for 15 to 20 minutes until the seaweed swells to three times its size.

Cut the carrot into very thin match sticks.

Slice the scallion diagonally into ¼ pieces.

Drain the water from the hijiki.

In large sauce pan, heat the oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the carrot and cook for a minute or two, until its color darkens.

Add the kombu dashi, hijiki, sugar, mirin and soy sauce and cook for 5 to 10 minutes or until the liquid evaporates. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and scallions and turn off the heat.

Serve at room temperature. This hijiki salad can be kept for several days and is delicious served cold. You often find hijiki salad in bento lunch boxes in Japan.

Melkam Megeb. Bon appetit. Buen provecho. Mànmàn chī! Guten Appetit! Dober tek! Selamat makan! Nush olsun! Svādiṣṭ khānā.