Sea vegetables – the trendy culinary term for seaweed – are a mealtime staple for marine educator Carol Steingart. She doesn’t chow down on whole plates of seaweed but includes small amounts of several species in many dishes she prepares throughout the week.

Seaweed is abundant, and it regenerates without the help of fertilizers or pesticides – or watering, for that matter, in a water-hungry world. And if we don’t pollute the intertidal zones in which it flourishes, it can provide much-needed nutrients for many people. While eaten in many parts of Asia, seaweed has only recently gained “superfood” status here. It has essential minerals (calcium, iodine, iron, magnesium and potassium), vitamins (A, B-12, C and K), fiber and protein. (But you can have too much of this good thing, especially iodine and magnesium. “Like everything, eating seaweed is about balance,” Steingart said.)

Steingart steeps a culinary seaweed blend to start miso soups and lentil stews, sprinkles flakes into noodle and rice dishes, and dry-toasts strips to serve as a bacon substitute in BLTs. She sticks a 2-inch piece of dark green kelp in a pot of beans to help soften their skins, making them more digestible. (The Beano of the sea, if you will.) For dessert, she hides bits of seaweed in chocolate brownie batter and openly includes it in maple-flavored Seaweed Nut Crunch (see recipe at left).

Steingart owns Coast Encounters, a Wells-based outfit that conducts tours of tide pools along Maine’s coast. In that role, she will lead Maine Seaweed Festival attendees next Saturday on beach walks to identify seaweed varieties.

More than 250 species of marine macroalgae (the scientific nomenclature) live in coastal Maine waters. If sourced from clean water, most are edible. But less than a dozen are harvested and dried for culinary use. These include reddish-purple dulse; golden-brown kelp; thin, green sea lettuce; and laver, which most people know as nori (the stuff sushi rolls are wrapped in). Steingart suggests that novice seaweed eaters try soup blends, variety packs and easily digestible dulse flakes.

As interest in and the economic value of Maine seaweed have risen, so have concerns about management of the resource. Maine-based seaweed suppliers like Ironbound Island, Maine Coast Sea Vegetablesand Maine Seaweed harvest seaweed by hand, cutting carefully so the plants can grow back easily. And the Maine Seaweed Council, an industry group, has worked with the Department of Marine Resources to set harvest limits, regulate licensing and write best-practice guides for harvesting. The department is developing management plans for all seaweed species.

Steingart expects seaweed, with proper management, to be a crucial part of her diet for a long time to come.

SEAWEED NUT CRUNCH

Carol Steingart has made this high-protein sweet snack for nine years with applause from most who have sampled it. The recipe comes from her friend Amy Rolnick of Portland. The brittle-like sweet holds its crunch for two days, but Steingart says even when it’s less crisp, it’s great mixed in yogurt.

Serves 6 to 8

1/3 cup corn oil

1/2 cup maple syrup

1 cup sliced almonds

1 cup sesame seeds

6 sheets of nori seaweed cut into postage stamp-sized pieces

1 teaspoon soy sauce

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Pour corn oil and maple syrup in a large skillet. Bring to a frothy boil.

Stir in almonds, sesame seeds and nori. Sprinkle with soy sauce. Stir until almonds, seeds and seaweed are well coated, 1 to 2 minutes.

Spread the mixture in a thin layer on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the almonds are golden.

Cool completely. Break into pieces and serve or store in an airtight container for two days.