Notes from the Kona Coast: Ogo Slaw

Ogo Slaw: I am in Hawaii on the Big Island along the Kona Coast. The ocean is wherever you look – and I can’t help but think of its relation to the food traditions of these islands.

When we think of seafood we tend to think fish first. There is fish aplenty in these islands. You can be sure of that. But there is vegetation from the sea too. It has the generic and slightly unappetizing name of seaweed, but don’t let that moniker scare you off this delicious and healthy taste treat from the sea.

But if you just can’t get past the word I suggest you get to know this vegetable by its Hawaiian name, limu.

Here limu traditionally meant any type of plant living in the sea. But as Hawaiian words began to find their way into the vocabulary of English speakers that came to dominate the island limu has come to be known as any type of edible seaweed, of which there are several varieties.

One of these varieties is Ogo. Now ogo is the Japanese generic word for seaweed, but it has also been adapted by English speaking Hawaiians to mean a specific type of edible seaweed.

Today I have a seaweed salad using two types of limu: ogo and arame. More specifically I’d call it a slaw, and whether you choose to call the main component of this salad limu or ogo it is worth seeking out for the briny flavor and crunchy texture it brings.

ogo in bowlOgo Slaw

These days, seaweed’s health benefits have become widely known. For example, limu has 3 times the amount of potassium as a banana. It’s very dense nutritionally speaking because it packs so many nutrients into very few calories. One pound of red ogo seaweed, for example, contains about 45 calories, and these calories are rich in iron, several minerals, calcium, and potassium. Many varieties of seaweed are also great sources of protein. But the nutritional value of seaweed is something many Hawaiians have long known. In fact before outside influences and tastes were introduced the traditional Hawaiian diet was a perfect nutritional triangle of limu, poi, and fish.

Shopping for seaweed can be confusing. But if you remember that seaweed is classified into 8 colors, it may help. Of the eight color groups, three are used for food. Red seaweed, or Rhodophyta, includes dulse, purple nori, ogo, agar and Irish moss. Brown seaweed, or Phaeophyta, includes kelp, kombu, wakame, arame, hijiki and rock weed. Sea lettuce belongs to the Chlorophyta or green seaweed group.

Because fresh sea vegetables contain little cellulose, they discolor and spoil quickly and are often available in dried form. So when presented with seaweed cooked in soup or stir-fry it can be difficult to know what type (or color) it was. Same with dried. For example, the nori of sushi fame may be classified as a red seaweed but when used as a sushi wrapper it appears very dark greenish black.

Where I live in Los Angeles fresh seaweed is rather easy to find. Naturally, it is common here in Hawaii too. If you can find fresh ogo and arame it is the best choice for this salad. But soaking dried seaweed in cold water returns it to its fresh state. The ratio to remember is 1 ounce of dry seaweed equals about 1 cup rehydrated. Once rehydrated, most seaweed can be added to stir-fried or steamed dishes and salads. Cut dried seaweed with scissors, wet seaweed with a knife.

ogo slawOgo Slaw serves 6 CLICK here for a printable recipe

inspired by Sam Choy

  • 2 c thick ogo, chopped as needed
  • 2 c Chinese red cabbage, shredded
  • 1⁄2 c carrots, shredded
  • 1⁄2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1⁄2 c daikon, thinly sliced
  • 1⁄2 c shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 Hawaiian red chili peppers, or similar (optional)
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 t red pepper flakes
  • 1⁄4 c cilantro, chopped
  • 2 T black sesame seeds
  • 1 T ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T Asian fish sauce
  • 1lime, juice only
  • 1 c arame seaweed sliced (or prepared ocean salad) as a garnish

Mix all the ingredients together in a large serving bowl except arame (ocean salad). Mix well. Top with arame as garnish.


Greg Henry

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