Hetty McKinnon’s Seaweed Lettuce Salad

Kombu, a type of kelp, is boiled then added to a bowl of leafy greens, avocado, and scallions. A spicy sesame dressing drizzled over the top creates an utterly craveable array of flavor and texture.

To Asia, With Love Seaweed Lettuce Salad in a bowl.

Lori Rice

This is a green salad unlike any you have ever tasted. The star of the show is kombu, a type of kelp often enjoyed in East Asia but easily found in the U.S.

When kombu is combined with leafy greens, creamy avocado, scallions and a punchy sesame dressing you have a healthy, nutrient rich salad that tastes faintly of the sea.

What is in Seaweed Salad

Kombu, once boiled and rehydrated, becomes tender and silky, but still retains a crisp bite. It is a salad ingredient packed with savory flavor and pleasing textures

The crunchy lettuce adds freshness—I like red oak or butter lettuce for its creamy finish, but any leafy greens will work here. Iceberg lettuce would add a more pronounced crunch while a peppery leaf like arugula would deliver another layer of flavor. A raw shredded cabbage would also be a worthy substitute.

A perfectly just-ripe avocado provides a buttery backdrop which brings the kombu and lettuce together in a happy union. If you wanted a more substantial salad, you could add a tangle of rice or mung bean vermicelli.

Overhead view of To Asia, With Love Seaweed Lettuce Salad in a bowl.
Lori Rice

Spicy Sesame Dressing

The spicy sesame dressing is a workhorse, one that is not only perfect in this salad but also in many others. It’s sweet, savory, and spicy, with a tart edge from the rice vinegar and is the perfect punchy antidote to the more mellow leaves.

This dressing would also go well with a cold soba noodle salad or even ladled over grilled vegetables.

Is Seaweed Good for You?

Seaweed is regarded by many as the future of food. As the world’s most sustainable food, it is zero-input, meaning it does not require fresh water, fertilizer, feed or arable land to thrive. It readily absorbs dissolved nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon dioxide directly from the sea and reproduces at a phenomenal rate—it can grow as much as an inch a day.

Along with its sustainability credentials, seaweed is also highly nutritious—it also contains more calcium than milk, more vitamin C than orange juice, and more protein than soybeans. In fact, fish do not naturally produce omega-3 fatty acids; they obtain these nutrients by eating seaweed.

Along with its ecological and environmental superpowers, seaweed is also delicious. In 1908, chemistry professor Kikunae Ikeda at the Tokyo Imperial University identified the glutamic acid in kombu seaweed as umami, the elusive fifth taste which makes food more delicious.

Beyond sushi and roasted snacks, seaweed is an ingredient that can easily become an everyday food, as it is in Japan and many other Asian countries.

Kombu salad with Lettuce in three bowls.
Lori Rice

Types of Seaweed and Where to Find it

There are many types of edible seaweed—wakame and kombu are both great for salads as they soak up flavor like a sponge.

Hijiki has a distinctive black and shredded texture and is great for stir-fries or served cold in a salad. Add a piece of kombu to your soup to deepen the flavors, or gently simmer it with water for ten minutes for a quick dashi.

Seaweed is most commonly sold dried, and you can easily find it at Asian Markets, Whole Foods or online, although there are now some companies who sell top quality frozen-from-fresh seaweed which are grown in the clear, icy cold Maine waters.

In this seaweed salad recipe I use kombu (kelp), but you could also use wakame or hijiki.

About to “To Asia, With Love”

“To Asia with Love” leans heavily on the blend of cultures both East and West to encapsulate light, healthy and vibrant Asian dishes that are rooted in tradition, but not bound by it. The book’s author, Hetty McKinnon, a mother of three, has written a cookbook for families who want to make incredible meals every night of the week without feeling exasperated. Quite simply: This book is a joy to cook from.

More Recipes from Hetty McKinnon, author of “To Asia with Love”

Hetty McKinnon’s Seaweed Lettuce Salad

Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 35 mins
Servings 2 to 4 servings

Reprinted with permission from “To Asia with Love,” by Hetty McKinnon. Copyright © 2021. Published by Prestel Verlag, a member of Penguin Random House.

Ingredients

  • For the salad
  • 5 x 9-inch piece of kombu (about ¾ ounce), soaked in warm water for 15–20 minutes
  • 1 head of lettuce (red oak or butter), leaves separated, washed and dried thoroughly
  • 1 avocado, sliced or cut into thin wedges
  • 1 tablespoon toasted white sesame seeds
  • 1 scallion, finely chopped
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • For the spicy sesame dressing
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • 1 scallion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon gochugaru (Korean red chile flakes) or 1 teaspoon red chile flakes
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon toasted white sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Method

  1. Boil salted water and cook the seaweed:

    Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil, add the soaked seaweed and boil for 12–15 minutes until tender-crisp. Drain. When cool enough to handle, tear or slice the kelp into bite-sized pieces.

    Simmering seaweed in a pot to make Seaweed Lettuce Salad by Hetty McKinnon.
    Lori Rice
    Kombu seaweed in a bowl to make Seaweed Lettuce Salad by Hetty McKinnon.
    Lori Rice
  2. Make the spicy sesame dressing:

    For the spicy sesame dressing, mix together grated garlic clove, chopped scallion, sugar, rice vinegar, gochugaru, sesame oil, sesame seeds and salt in a small bowl.

    Sauce for Seaweed Lettuce Salad by Hetty McKinnon in a white bowl.
    Lori Rice
  3. Assemble the salad and serve:

    Combine the seaweed, lettuce and avocado in a bowl and pour over the dressing. Season with sea salt and black pepper, top with the sesame seeds and scallion and serve immediately.

    A bowl with lettuce and avocado to make Seaweed Lettuce Salad by Hetty McKinnon.
    Lori Rice