Cabbage of the Sea

There is a whole array of foods in Russia whose existence can only be justified by the fact that they have a high concentration of vitamins or minerals. Greenish-brown slimy morskaya kapusta (sea cabbage), also known as laminaria or kelp, is one of those foods. Usually sold in cans or from unpackaged deli counter piles, it resembles green spaghetti and comes either as is, or with the addition of apples or onions.

Laminaria sold in Russia is generally harvested from the White Sea, where there is a whole industry of harvesting and preserving algae for food, medicine, and beauty products.

Its high content of vitamin B and probably one-third of the minerals on the table of elements made it a core item on the Soviet menu. For inexplicable reasons, laminaria was available in most stores even when other products had totally disappeared during the 1980s. As people dreamed of sausage and butter, they could always have laminaria with the comforting reassurance that their children were getting enough iodine in their diet.

Morskaya kapusta is most popular during winter and early spring, before new vegetable crops start to come in. Its taste is unlike any other vegetable, and its consistency is slightly crunchy. Most people add other ingredients to make it more edible. A laminaria salad can include cheese, carrots, eggs, and mayonnaise. It's also possible to use it for soups, for example shchi or borshch, substituting "sea cabbage" for its terrestrial relative.