Carbon-Light Cooking with Kelp

Words by Tara Thomas 

Photographs by Matthew Li

The global food system is in urgent need of rewiring. Here, chef Tara Thomas creates two recipes using kelp, a nutrient-rich zero-input seaweed, to help inspire more mindful and sustainable ways of eating.

I believe that the act of nourishment is the keystone solution to humanity’s healing on Earth, not just in terms of the seed that manifests into food on the plate but also the liberation of the hands that have nurtured those seeds since the dawn of time. Globally, a greed for resources means Indigenous communities are consistently marginalized to the point that ancestral ecosystems, especially seeds, become endangered. By contrast, storefronts are decorated with a galore of worldly ingredients derived from these same communities, dissociating the consumer from the stories behind the ingredients they buy. The state of our ecosystems means it is urgent that we tread lightly in regards to what we eat.


Kelp consists of a variety of seaweeds that inhabit coastlines in the same way that a forest provides food and shelter for thousands of species. But the ecosystems surrounding kelp can sequester 20 times more carbon than land forests, making their conservation and regeneration crucial to the wellbeing of our planet.

Kelp forests can be farmed and regenerated to improve water quality and restore burdened ecosystems. For example: Dune Lankard, an Indigenous activist working with Native Conservancy who belongs to the dAXunhyuu (the Eyak people) in Cordova, Alaska, is regenerating seaspace using a range of kelp varieties that are integral to their community. The regeneration of the sea ecosystem in Cordova has a domino effect on surrounding communities. For the dAXunhyuu people, it allows them to rekindle once-dormant cultural customs dependent on the use and knowledge of kelp. Moreover, kelp is nutritionally dense. It is a good source of EHA and BHA–commonly found in fish—as well as calcium, iron, potassium, fiber, and a number of different vitamins. This makes it a buoyant force for communities like the dAXunhyuu people, for their healing and connection to nourishment.

The state of our ecosystems means it is urgent that we tread lightly in regards to what we eat.

Tara Thomas

It is a joy to bring Carbon-Light Eating to life with Atmos. For me, eating and cooking have created a philosophy of “treading lightly.” And that is precisely what carbon-light eating is: the act of building awareness of our eating habits and thinking critically about the ingredient sources we rely on in order to make them accessible. Eating food is a daily consumptive behavior. For this reason it beholds the most opportunities to make changes; small changes that translate to awareness, action, and most of all compassion. Increasing the amount of kelp in our diets is an important starting point, and so I’m elated to share this essential Kombu Split Pea Soup as well as a more elevated plate of Kombu-Miso Braised Leeks and Crispy Fingerlings. Below, follow the step by step process shots by the wonderful Matthew Li.


Note: I recommend making space to source your kelp as compassionately as possible. Start by having conversations with local fishers as kelp tends to be a byproduct of catch. Help build community—build peace.

Kombu Split Pea Soup



Kombu Miso Broth

2 tbsp miso

2 kombu sticks

2 quarts of water

1 tbsp sea salt


Split Pea Soup

1 lb split peas soaked overnight and rinsed

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 bay leaves

2 onions diced

3 carrots diced

4 celery stalks chopped

½ tsp fennel seeds

2 tbsp ground coriander seeds

½ cup chopped mushrooms (I used trumpet)

⅓ cup of rice vinegar/white wine vinegar/white wine

½ cup of chopped potatoes

1 tsp garlic powder

3 cloves of garlic

1 tsp cracked black pepper

1 tsp grated ginger

2 sprigs of oregano

3 sprigs of thyme

1 tbsp tamari

2 tbsp sea salt



To prepare the kombu miso broth, bring two quarts of water to boil in a saucepan. Once the water is rumbling, place kombu sheets in water with salt. After two minutes, whisk in miso paste. Turn off heat and cover to set aside. You can store it in the fridge for up to 7 days—pack with kombu sheets in broth.


For the split pea soup, heat extra virgin olive oil in a large pot or dutch oven to medium heat. Add bay leaves with mirepoix (onion, celery, and carrots) alongside a heavy pinch of salt and cover.

After a few minutes, once the onions begin to appear translucent, add fennel seeds and coriander powder. Then, cover again. Allow a few minutes to pass, once you observe that the mix is aromatic and beginning to change color, add chopped mushrooms and a big pinch of salt. Then, mix together before covering again. After two minutes remove the pot lidand pour vinegar over the mix to deglaze it. Keep mixing to bring the ingredients together.


Next, add the kombu miso broth, split peas, potatoes, garlic powder, black pepper, ginger, oregano, thyme, tamari, and a generous pinch of salt. Cover and allow to cook for 45 minutes without stirring.

After 45 minutes remove from heat and let it settle with the pot lid cracked open. Allow 10 minutes to pass before the blending process. Remove oregano and thyme twigs for compost. Blend soup in a blender or with a hand blender until smooth with both kombu pieces from broth.


Add edible flowers, nasturtiums, and shiso leaves.


Serve soup hot with toppings of your choice! I love adding crispy mushrooms, chili oil, braised kale, and seeds.

Kombu-Miso Braised Leeks and Crispy Fingerlings



Braised Leeks

½ quart of kombu miso broth

3 leeks halved and cut into 3-4 inch pieces


Crispy Fingerlings

½ lb of fingerlings sliced thin (details below)

¼ cup of high heat oil like avocado or grapeseed

Sea salt for dusting throughout the cooking process


Lemon Aioli

½ lemon juiced or 1 tbsp lemon juice

¼ cup vegan mayonnaise


Tomato Seed Ketchup 

½ cup of cherry tomatoes

1 tsp honey or preferred sweetener

1 tbsp rice vinegar


Prepare leeks by discarding the top layer of dark leaves that are sandy and woody. Proceed to wash leeks. Then, slice the bottom end with the root strands but just enough to discard the roots, keeping the leek intact—do not just rip it off. Slice these into three to four inch pieces and half lengthwise.


To braise the leeks, place a kombu sheet at the bottom of a saucepan. Arrange the leeks on the bottom of the pan, pour broth over them, bring to a simmer on medium heat, then cover. Once the broth is mostly evaporated but still bright in color, shut off the heat and keep covered—this should take about three or so minutes.

Slice potatoes in thin strips by halving them and cutting lengthwise. Soak potato slices in cold water for 30 minutes, then drain and dry so there is no excess water. This will protect you from spitting oil.


In a cast iron skillet on medium heat, add oil. After 30 seconds or so add potatoes with a dusting of salt, mix together, then cover to tenderize. You can flip the potatoes when you observe a golden color on the bottom. Once golden and tender, remove them from heat and prepare for plating.


To prepare the lemon aioli, whisk lemon juice, one pinch of lemon rind, and mayonnaise together. Set aside for plating.

For the tomato seed ketchup, smash cherry tomatoes so that seeds and peel separate. Remove peel for a snack or toss in a salad later. Whisk honey and vinegar into the seed mix. Set aside for plating.

To begin assembling the plate, dollop lemon aioli and spoon some tomato seed ketchup on top. Then, arrange leeks on top in a way that complements the plate. Place a handful of fries and then finish with edible flowers and herbs. Bon appétit.

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