Blinis with smoked salmon, creme fraiche & Sea Grapes
The first time I tasted Sea Grapes was 2 years ago when I visited Atutaki for a holiday. It was served very simply at a buffet table, fresh and without garnish in a big wooden bowl. People would throw some on their plate amongst the other food, just like you would do with tomatoes or another vegetable. I thought the little green grape-like clusters looked really pretty and the taste was very fresh subtly salty. I would have liked to dress them up and make them look extraordinary, but for people there they a staple when in season.
I researched Sea Grapes when I returned home & found very little. It grows and is very popular in famous Okinawa, Japan and has found its way to other Asian countries. Very popular in the Philippines where it is cultivated commercially and in some of the Pacific Islands. Some varieties grow in New Zealand albeit quite sparsely - some can be found around the Kermadec Islands but generally our climate is not ideal for it to proliferate.
The recipe below uses blini, a small pancakes that trace their origin to Russia where they are mostly used as party food. It is fitting that they should be garnished with Sea Grapes, the vegan green caviar!
12 already cooked blinis (unless you prefer to make your own)
1tsp grated lemon zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
125ml crème fraiche
150g thinly sliced cold smoked salmon
24 Sea Grapes, soaked in fresh water for 15-20 minutes
Chopped fresh chives (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
If desired, warm the blinis in a non-stick pan or in the oven for a few minutes. Mix the lemon zest & juice into the crème fraîche. Drain the Sea Grapes.
To assemble, top each blini with a thin piece of smoked salmon, twisting it slightly in a decorative manner and some fresh chives, if desired. Top with a dollop of crème fraîche and garnish with 2 pieces of Sea Grapes. Season with black pepper, to taste.
Chef's tips: Sea grapes have a soft and succulent texture and really are a good alternative to caviar for those who enjoy the taste and not the price. Due to their beautiful grape-like shape and fish-egg taste, they suit a wide range of dishes as a vegetable or a garnish. Like all seaweed they are highly nutritious and are said to have a positive effect on rheumatism. Their taste is delicate and refreshing with a slight saltiness.
Sea grapes can be used in the same way as caviar. They have a similar taste and are vegetarian.
Sea Grapes are called 'the longevity seaweed' in Okinawa because of their high concentration of minerals, low calories and anti-aging effects.