One thing I miss about living in Korea is the abundance of sea vegetables. Although more people are now aware of and have found applications for a couple of kinds of dried seaweed in the U.S., such as nori (김 – gim, dried laver) for California rolls and kombu (다시마 – dashima, dried kelp) for quick dashi stock, I feel that these still fall into one mysteriously unattractive grass category lumped in as sea-‘weeds’ to many.
On the other hand, these sea vegetables are part of the everyday dinner table in Korea, each with an identity of its own and used in multiple simple dishes. Even if you go to a shikdang (식당 – restaurant, usually referring to humble, local Korean ones) in Korea, especially in coastal towns, it’s common to find at least a couple of simply prepared sea vegetable banchan (반찬 – side dish) along with a small grilled fish for each person.
Having missed these ingredients, I was happy to get my hands on them during my recent month-long stay in Korea. One is tot (톳 pronounced like “tote”), also less commonly known as nokmichae (녹미채) in Korea, but you may be more familiar with it as hijiki, dried form of tot, in a Japanese side dish with its black color contrasting shredded carrot pieces. Tot in Korea is known for high content of calcium and iron as well as for oceany crunchy bites.
Applications for tot are simple and easy. For this post, I don’t have the usual recipe measurements since a blog post was an after-thought to a happy meal at home in Korea. I just hope that this provides you with some ideas of how tot can be used in simple, delicious ways. If you live in Korea, by all means go buy some fresh tot from a grocery store and make your own dish tonight – I envy you.
Basic Tot Preparation
For any tot dish you want to make, start with rinsing tot in cold water to remove dirt.
Blanch tot in boiling water with salt for base seasoning. Tot will turn bright green as soon as you put them in boiling water. After 30 seconds or less when they are all bright green, remove from heat. Drain and rinse tot in cold water. Squeeze out excess water.
They come in long strands, so cut them into about 1-inch or bite size length, depending on how you prefer them in your dish.
Tot Rice (톳밥)
Simply add tot in rice to cook in rice cooker. You don’t need to change the ratio of rice to water measurements.
You can also make rice in a regular pot or Korean ddukbaegi (뚝배기 – clay pot for stovetop cooking). Without getting into too much detail, you can start by pre-soaking rice in water for 30 minutes. Mix blanched tot with rice before putting it on the stovetop. Then put it over low heat, covered, for about 20 minutes until you can smell the rice. Turn off the heat and let the rice rest for another 10 minutes, covered.
If you like an egg on top of your rice, feel free to crack in an egg after turning off the heat but before the 10-minute resting.
When you open the lid at the end, you will get a whiff of sea from your rice.
If this sounds all mystery to you, I recommend the rice cooker method.
Tot rice doesn’t need seasoning if you are eating it with the usual Korean side dishes. If it’s the feature dish, make seasoning sauce separately. A simple seasoning sauce is a mix of soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, minced garlic, chopped scallions and gochugaru (고추가루 – red pepper powder).
Tot with Spicy-Tangy Seasoning (톳 초무침)
Make the sauce by mixing gochujang (고추장 – red pepper paste), vinegar, honey, and sesame seeds. Mix in the blanched tot. This can be a side dish to eat with rice or an accent ingredient in your everyday salad.
Tot & Tofu Side Dish (톳 두부 반찬)
A common preparation I saw in restaurants was this tot and crumbled tofu mixed together. You can use the trimmings and ends of tofu after using tofu for a main ingredient in another dish.
Squeeze excess water out from tofu and crumble. Season crumbled tofu with soy sauce, vinegar and black pepper. Let it rest for 30 minutes. Mix in blanched tot. Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds for garnish.
매생이 (mae saeng yi), another common sea vegetable used in many ways
Here is a bonus track of the day.^_^ I also bought a package of 매생이 (Capsosiphon fulvescens) on sale. It looks like a ball of really fine, green threads, and you may be thinking something really unappetizing by the look of this. But it’s so fine that the mouthfeel is just very soft, and there is no effort necessary to chew this one. It’s commonly used in soups, but I like it in savory pancakes, where the outside is crispy but the inside just melts in your mouth.
Make the pancake batter by mixing flour, egg and water. Season with salt and pepper. Rinse mae-saeng-yi in cold water and drain. Squeeze out excess water. Whisk it in the batter to loosen, which will slowly spread out and be incorporated in the batter.
Add the batter on a heated, oiled pan and spread out to a thin, round shape. When the edges become crispy, flip to the other side. The pancakes are ready when both sides turn crispy golden. Serve hot with simple dipping sauce (soy sauce splashed with vinegar or lemon juice).
Here is a link to deep-fried mae-saeng-yi (매생이 튀김) from the popular Korean food magazine Essen (에쎈) website. Although the recipe is in Korean, the step-by-step pictures should be helpful. Deep-fry (튀김 – tuigim) powder is used for this, sold in Korean grocery stores.
Here is a mae-saeng-yi kalguksu (칼국수 – knife-cut noodles) I had when I was in Korea 2 years ago.