Seaweed Salad is known as Kaisou Sarada (海藻サラダ) here in Japan, and it refers to any salad that includes seaweed in it (not a specific dish). It's a common way of using sea vegetables at home, and I love dressing it in a sweet and tangy sesame dressing that makes it very similar to the packaged ones sold in the US (minus the food coloring).
Why This Recipe Works?
- A mix of several types of seaweed, including wakame, konbu, agar and tsunomata provides a wide variety of natural colors and textures.
- Sliced cucumbers add a splash of green without using food coloring, and it also gives the salad a nice refreshing crunch.
- I like to accent the tangy, savory, sweet taste of the trademark seaweed salad dressing with nutty toasted sesame oil and a touch of ginger to add a warm burst of flavor.
- Seaweed salad is best when given a chance for the flavors to meld. This makes it a great make-ahead side dish that can fit into a weekly meal plan.
Seaweed Salad Nutrition
There are dozens of edible varieties of seaweed (a.k.a. sea vegetables), each one with a different shape, color, texture, and taste. Seaweed is incredibly rich in minerals such as iodine, calcium, and magnesium. It's an excellent source of vitamins, including Vitamin K and Vitamin B9, and provides healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The iodine content in seaweed supports thyroid function, while the fiber is great for your digestive health.
Combining seaweed with other ingredients like cucumbers and sesame seeds can further enrich the dish with antioxidants and phytonutrients such as flavonoids and omega-6 fatty acids.
- Seaweed - I recommend buying a blend of dried edible seaweed. The more varieties of seaweed your mix contains, the more colors and textures your salad will have. My blend contained a mixture of dried wakame, wakame stem, konbu, agar, red tsunomata, green tsunomata, and agar. If you can't find a mix of seaweed, you could also make it with just one type, such as wakame.
- Cucumber - I like adding cucumber because it adds a refreshing crunch and a beautiful splash of green. Salting removes the excess water while transforming its texture from crispy to crunchy, which works beautifully with the slick seaweed.
- Toasted Sesame Seeds - These impart a nutty, earthy flavor and add a fun poppy texture to each bite.
- Scallion - Finely chopped scallion adds a fresh onion flavor that contrasts the briny seaweed nicely. I used thin Japanese scallions, but if you can only find thicker green onions, you can split the stem into quarters lengthwise before chopping them or just use chives.
- Rice Vinegar - Rice vinegar has a smooth acidity and mild sweetness that brightens the salad without making it too sour. Apple cider vinegar will also work.
- Toasted Sesame Oil - The nutty signature flavor of seaweed salad comes from toasted sesame oil. If you want a lighter, more refreshing salad, try substituting olive oil or grapeseed oil.
- Soy Sauce - Soy sauce not only seasons the seaweed, but it also draws out its inherent umami. If you want to make this gluten-free, just substitute tamari or coconut aminos.
- Salt - I like to keep the amount of soy sauce to a minimum because its brown color muddles the vibrant hues of the seaweed. That's why I supplement the seasoning with a little salt.
- Sugar - Japanese cuisine balances salt and umami with sweetness to achieve harmony. I used evaporated cane sugar to achieve this, but honey, agave syrup, or regular granulated sugar will work fine.
- Grated Ginger - Grating some fresh ginger into the dressing adds a warm, spicy note that lifts the salad's flavor.
- Chili Flakes - To kick up the heat and add a pop of red to the salad, I add a pinch of chili flakes. These were cut into rings, but any chili flake will work.
How to Make Seaweed Salad
Dried seaweed sold for human consumption has been cooked before it has been dried, so all you need to do is rehydrate it. Put it in a large bowl and soak with a generous amount of cold water. In most cases, it'll take around 10 minutes, but check your package directions. This process allows the seaweed to absorb water and expand to its original state.
While the seaweed is rehydrating, thinly slice the cucumbers and toss them with a pinch of salt. Let these sweat for 10 minutes. The salt draws moisture out of the cucumbers through osmosis, which will help keep your salad from getting watery.
To prepare the salad dressing, just whisk the rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar, salt, grated ginger, and chili flakes to taste together until the salt and sugar dissolve.
Once the seaweed is rehydrated, drain and squeeze it between your hands to remove as much excess water as possible. Doing this ensures that the seaweed will absorb the dressing more effectively without being diluted by excess water. Add the squeezed seaweed to the dressing.
Once the cucumbers start to sweat, massage them until they're limp and translucent. They should release a ton of water, and the texture changes from crispy to crunchy. Gather the cucumbers with your hands and squeeze as much liquid out of them as possible, then add them to the bowl with the seaweed.
Then all you have to do is toss the seaweed, cucumbers, toasted sesame seeds, and chopped scallions together with the dressing until it's evenly combined.
Wakame salad is a variation of seaweed salad made with wakame seaweed. It's often dressed with Ponzu but can also be combined with cucumbers to make Sunomono. To make a spicy seaweed salad, try adding some Chili Oil or your favorite Asian chili paste such as sriracha, sambal oelek, or gochujang. For something totally different, yet equally delicious, head over to my Secret Stash of original recipes for a Watermelon Radish & Wakame Salad.
Serve it With
There are obvious choices like California Rolls, Tempura Shrimp Rolls, or Spicy Tuna Rolls, but the salad's light and tangy flavors also contrast richer dishes like Mushroom Tempura, Miso Salmon, or Teriyaki Steak. Whatever you choose, don't forget to make a bowl of miso soup to round out your meal!
Other Japanese Salad Recipes
Yes, this seaweed salad is both vegan and vegetarian friendly. Store bought seaweed salads may contain non-vegan sugar, so make sure you check the label.
Seaweed salad usually contains soy sauce in the dressing which means it is not gluten-free. However, you can simply substitute tamari or coconut aminos in for the soy sauce to this seaweed salad recipe gluten-free.
Sorry to break it to you, but if you've been eating seaweed salad because you thought it was healthy, I have news for you. That neon green color that many seaweed salads have is not the natural color of seaweed; it's food coloring. Places that serve this kind of salad also usually buy it in tubs pre-seasoned, which also means it's probably loaded with corn syrup and MSG. The good news is that by making it at home, you can get all the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and prebiotics naturally contained in seaweed without all of the extra stuff that gets added in commercial seaweed salad.
Japanese grocery stores should carry bags of seaweed salad mix, specifically for making a salad. If you don't have a Japanese grocery store nearby, try searching the web or online retailers such as Amazon.
The salt and acidity in the dressing will help preserve this salad longer than most however it should still be consumed within 2-3 days and be stored in the fridge.
- 12 grams dry mixed seaweed
- 100 grams cucumber
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
- 15 grams scallion (finely chopped)
Seaweed Salad Dressing
- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
- ½ tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon evaporated cane sugar
- ¼ teaspoon grated ginger
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- chili flakes (to taste)
- Rehydrate 12 grams dry mixed seaweed in water according to the package directions. Mine took 10 minutes.
- Thinly slice 100 grams cucumber and toss them with a pinch of salt to coat each slice. Let this sweat for 10 minutes.
- Prepare the dressing by mixing 2 teaspoons rice vinegar, ½ tablespoon toasted sesame oil, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon evaporated cane sugar, ¼ teaspoon grated ginger, ¼ teaspoon salt, and chili flakes until the salt and sugar dissolve.
- When the seaweed is rehydrated, drain and squeeze it between your hands to remove as much excess water as possible. Add the squeezed seaweed to the dressing.
- Massage the cucumbers until they release a lot of water, and the slices go from opaque to translucent. Gather the cucumbers with your hands and squeeze as much liquid out of them as possible. Add them to the bowl with the seaweed.
- Add 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds and 15 grams scallion and stir the seaweed salad together to coat everything with the dressing.