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An Outer Hebridean Christmas - cooking with suet and seaweed

Fiona Bird discusses the magic of seaweed and explains how to get the best out of this wonderful natural resource when cooking this Christmas

Published: December 1, 2015
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Stir Up Sunday fell on a day when I was on the mainland, in my Angus kitchen. As usual I’d left most of the pudding bowls across on the Isle, so in waste not want not fashion, I packed the excess pudding mix into a container.

It travelled with me over the sea to The Uists via the Isle of Skye (in the opposite route to Flora Macdonald and Bonnie Prince Charlie). On reaching my kitchen on South Uist, I added a little more finely ground Ascophyllum nodosum or knotted wrack for good measure and steamed the pudding for a couple of hours.

Ascophyllum nodosum rolls of my tongue nowadays, in a Harry Potter kind of way. I'm indebted to my children and J. K. Rowling for that stroke of Latin Confidence. That said, the botanical names of seaweed may be subject to change. Seaweed is like this - we have much to learn. Dried and sprinkled seaweed used by either its common or Latin name is however, most useful as a Christmas spice.

One thing I have in abundance in my Island kitchen is dried seaweed. I probably chose an olive brown seaweed jar (Ascophyllum nodosum) in a Christmassy, warm spice frame of mind. Finely powered Asco looks very similar to the traditional spices that a cook will confidentially add to Christmas fare.

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Most seaweeds mellow when cooked. The knotted wrack which was harvested on the neighbouring Isle of Lewis, is very finely ground and so texture possibly influenced my choice too - Doctor Seaweed kindly sent me a sample pack to trial in my Christmas recipes.

The nutritional benefits of seaweed are looking very healthy but in honesty in sprinkled form any benefit may be minimal. That said, research into the fat busting powers of seaweed is ongoing at Newcastle University. Tests show that alginate found in kelp can suppress the digestion of fat in the gut. I rather like the idea of seaweed working out with suet in my Christmas mincemeat. If you are dealing in suet recipes, look out for fresh suet in a butchers or at a farmer’s market. Hugh Grierson Organics may be able to help you out, if you don’t have local connections.

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One of my most colourful recipes in Seaweed in the Kitchen lends itself to Christmas. This ruby red and flecked emerald green dessert is much lighter than the traditional steamed pud or mince pie and can be made in advance.

It’s refreshing and has the merest hint of the sea – adding seaweed to ice-cream or sorbet softens the weed’s flavour. Seaweed and ice-cream is a well tested partnership - carrageen is already used as a stabiliser in commercial ice-creams. I chose sea lettuce for its emerald sparkle but any of the Ulva spp. will sprinkle and sparkle green.

The Ulva spp. can bully but when baked or churned in an ice-cream machine the flavour is really very hard to place. On the Outer Hebridean Isle, where buying fresh pomegranates or juice can be tricky, I often substitute frozen raspberry juice. Cranberry juice works in this sorbet too. If you want to ring the seaweed flavour changes and like the colour red, use finely ground dulse which, if you can’t pick your own, is available from Mara Seaweed or Atlantic Kitchen.

Pomegranate and Sea Lettuce Sorbet

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Sea lettuce sorbet. Picture: Fiona Bird

Sea lettuce sorbet. Picture: Fiona Bird


• Tablespoon dried ground sea lettuce
• 200g caster sugar
• 125ml water
• 600ml pomegranate juice
• 100g pomegranate seeds (optional)


Put the sea lettuce, caster sugar and water in a pan over a low heat and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Boil briefly until you have thick syrup. Cool completely.

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Add the pomegranate to the cooled sea lettuce sugar syrup and mix well. Pour into an ice-cream machine* and churn until frozen.
Serve the jewelled sorbet with fresh pomegranate seeds.

*Alternatively pop the ice-cream into a freezer safe container and freeze until slushy. Return the mixture to the bowl beat well (or whiz in a food processor) and return to the freezer. Repeat this process until you can’t see any icy shreds and freeze until frozen.

This recipe is taken from Seaweed in The Kitchen (Prospect Books 2015)

Doctor Seaweed sells Asco: which is harvested off Lewis (and in sea lochs)

While Sea Lettuce is available from:,,

Dulse can be purchased at:

Suet can be purchased here:

Fiona is a graduate of The University of St Andrews, mother of six and a former BBC Masterchef finalist. She divides her time between Angus and the Outer Hebridean Isle of South Uist, where her husband is the local doctor. Fiona is often seen on her bicycle with a basket full of seaweed or wild edibles and is unusually late for church. Fiona is the author of Kids’ Kitchen (Barefoot Books 2009), The Forager’s Kitchen (Cico Books 2013) and Seaweed in the Kitchen (Prospect Books 2015). She blogs on wild food for The Huffington Post UK and is set to release her next book: Let Your Kids Go Wild Outside

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