If you eat out in restaurants, you'll have noticed that seaweed is increasingly being used as an ingredient by creative chefs, who enjoy nothing more than a good forage along the shoreline, snipping responsibly as they go.
At last year's Food On The Edge symposium in Galway, speaker after speaker predicted that seaweed was something that we will see a lot more of on restaurant menus in the future. It's nutrient-rich and one of the most sustainable foods that there is; some farmers are even experimenting with feeding seaweed to cattle to cut methane production.
There's nothing new about seaweed of course - in Ireland we are surrounded by many different edible seaweeds, some of which have featured in Irish cooking for centuries. If you fancy trying out a spot of foraging yourself, it's a good idea to go with someone who knows what they are doing, as it's important to forage responsibly, and to harvest the right plants. There are courses available all around the country; check online for the one nearest to you.
Alternatively, you could equip yourself with one of two excellent Irish books on the subject. Prannie Rhatigan is a medical doctor who has been espousing the virtues of seaweed for years. Her book, Irish Seaweed Kitchen: The Comprehensive Guide to Healthy Everyday Cooking with Seaweeds, is the bible on Irish seaweed, and Sally McKenna's Extreme Greens: Understanding Seaweeds is another good guide to foraging and cooking with seaweed.
For those who either don't live on the coast or to whom the notion of foraging does not appeal, there are plenty of dried commercial seaweeds available in the shops and, increasingly, supermarkets.
In Waterford, Tom and Ria Jones started to experiment with different seaweeds about five years ago. Their aim was to find a way to incorporate seaweed into ordinary recipes. They found that by drying the seaweed that they harvested, and grinding it to a powder, they could incorporate it easily into recipes. As well as stopping the seaweed overpowering the recipe, the natural glutamates and umami characteristics of the seaweed enrich and deepen the flavour of the dishes to which they are added. Their Sea of Vitality range is stocked in Ardkeen Stores and SuperValu outlets, and the bread mix and Super Seaweed Snack - an oat bar with pecans, cranberries and ground kelp - are delicious.
FERMENTING WITH FULVIO
On Saturday March 4, Catherine Fulvio and tutor Daniel Koenig will be teaching a course in fermented foods at her Ballyknocken Cookery School in Co Wicklow. The course runs from 10am to 2pm and the price of €125 includes a full tasting menu as well as all the day's recipes. ballyknocken.ie
Starting on February 28, Ely's Ian Brosnan is running a four-week wine appreciation course in the vaults at CHQ. The approach is fun, friendly and engaging, says Brosnan, and each two-hour class includes supper. The course is priced at €220 per person. elywinebar.ie
MOTHER'S DAY AT LYONS
The Mill at Cliff at Lyons in Kildare is offering Sunday lunch on selected dates from February to May, including Mother's Day on March 26. The three-course lunch is priced at €40. Alternatively, there is afternoon tea in The Orangery for €35. Pre-booking essential. cliffatlyons.ie