Rice to Riches

Risotto is an Italian specialty that is a universally comforting dish. Creamy, tender rice simmered with vegetables and a savory stock define the dish, but there’s so much room for interpretation beyond those basics. Proving that point, traditional Japanese ingredients are the secret to making a richer, healthier, and even easier version than the original.

Sugimoto Shiitake are the secret to creating a world of umami that’s completely plant-based. You could just hydrate them and toss in a few meaty chunks to dress up the dish, but with a little finesse, you can bring out the full potential of this key ingredient.

How Can You Maximize Your Mushrooms?

  • For the sake of thrift and flavor, save all of that shiitake-infused soaking water as part of the cooking liquid, just for starters. It should be a crime to toss such savory stock.
  • Once fully hydrated, slowly roast the sliced caps over low heat to concentrate the flavors while enhancing their toothsome, chewy texture. The edges begin to caramelize and crisp while the centers remain lusciously tender.
  • A light dusting of Sugimoto shiitake powder drives the umami bus home. Who needs truffles when you can coax out many of those same woodsy, nutty, and earthy notes from a much more attainable source?
  • Stash those stems away for safe keeping. We don’t need them for this recipe, but they’re ideal for other meals, such as tacos, chopped cheese sandwiches, and more.

The very best risotto blurs cultural boundaries, blending the best of eastern and western cuisine. Risotto was born from Arab influence in the first place, since they’re to thank for introducing rice to Italy during the Middle Ages.

Why Do Japanese Ingredients Work Best in Risotto?

  • Sushi Rice: Rather than more expensive arborio or carnaroli rice, sushi rice is the most affordable short grain I can find. It’s readily available in bulk, but even more importantly from a culinary stand point, maintains a satisfying al dente bite while creating an effortlessly creamy sauce out of any excess liquid. I find it’s less temperamental to cook, demanding less active stirring to yield the same great results.
  • Mirin: Standing in for classic white wine, the base of mirin is sake, which is also fermented from rice and thus more harmonious overall. Sugar is added for a light, balanced sweetness that enhances other flavors without overwhelming the dish.
  • Miso: Subtly funky, salty, and savory, I simply can’t get enough miso. White miso contributes a more delicate flavor to this dish, creating tanmi without even trying.
  • Wasabi: Bright and peppery, bold enough to cut through the richness, wasabi is an optional addition depending on your spice tolerance. You only need a tiny bit for the right touch of contrast.

That’s just talking about the base here. Things get really exciting when you consider the endless seasonal variations that are possible. You could easily eat a different risotto every day of the year and never grow bored.

First, let’s start with spring.

Celebrate the season of renewal with fresh green vegetables, like asparagus, snap peas, green peas, or artichoke hearts. If you forage, look for fiddle head ferns or morel mushrooms. Finish it off with tender young sprouts, microgreens, or delicate herbs like chives and dill.

Summer brings a rainbow of produce…

…but it’s impossible to consider the options without mentioning tomatoes first. Cherry tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, or beefsteak tomatoes; there are no bad tomatoes here. Pair them with sweet corn kernels, zucchini or yellow squash, bell peppers, eggplants, okra, or wax beans. Basil is a must, if you ask me, although hot sauce or pickled jalapeรฑos could be a nice way to spice things up.

When the weather begins to grow colder for fall…

…hardier vegetables come into play. Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, chestnuts, turnips, and beets are at the top of my list. Bear in mind that this roster needs to be cooked before joining the party, so plan on roasting them on a separate sheet pan while the shiitake mushrooms caramelize.

Winter can be tough.

In some cases, it’s a time of scarcity, muted colors, and dampened flavors. Don’t let that outdoor chill take the warmth out of your food! Consider carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and dark leafy greens like kale, collards, and Swiss chard. This is a perfect opportunity to break out the dried herbs to add some soulful rosemary, sage, and/or thyme to bolster that comforting broth. Top it off with toasted nuts like walnuts, hazelnuts, or pecans for a crunchy, satisfying finish.

Even if you just stick with the plain, simple shiitake foundation, you’re in for a heady umami experience. Vegan cheese is optional, though recommended for extra richness, guaranteed to push it over the edge into the realm of everyday decadence. Make a half batch to impress a hot date, double up to serve the whole family, or make it just as is for yourself and relish the leftovers all week.

Risotto is one of my favorite easy meals, and with this recipe, I bet it will become one of yours, too.

Yield: Makes 4 - 6 Servings

Caramelized Shiitake Risotto for All Seasons

Caramelized Shiitake Risotto for All Seasons

Shiitake mushrooms and other Japanese ingredients are the secret to making a richer, healthier, and even easier risotto than the original Italian version. With one base recipe, you can create endless seasonal varations for a delicious change of pace whenever you crave it!

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour


  • 1 (2.47-Ounce) Package (Approximately 2 Cups Rehydrated) Sugimoto Donko Shiitake Mushrooms
  • 1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Divided
  • 1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar
  • 3/4 Teaspoon Salt, Divided
  • 1 Lemon, Zested and Juiced
  • 2 - 3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 1 1/2 Cups Dry Sushi Rice
  • 2 โ€“ 4 Cups Low-Sodium Vegetable Stock, Warmed
  • 1/4 Cup Mirin
  • 2 Tablespoons White Miso Paste
  • 2 Teaspoons Shiitake Powder
  • 2 Cups Cooked Vegetables*
  • 1/4 Cup Fresh Chives or Scallions, Thinly Sliced
  • 1/4 Cup Fresh Basil, Minced
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Wasabi Paste (Optional)
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/2 Cup Almond-Based Vegan Ricotta** or Parmesan-Style Cheese, or 1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast (Optional)
  • Toppings of Your Choice**


  1. Preheat your oven to 250 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Stem and slice the mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquid. Save the stems for another recipe. Place the sliced shiitake on the baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of oil all over and sprinkle with sugar, lemon zest, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set the sheet in the center over you oven and roast for about 45 minutes, until the mushrooms are lightly caramelized around the edges. Let cool completely.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and rice, sauteing for about 5 - 6 minutes, until the garlic is aromatic and the grains are slightly toasted. Starting with the reserved shiitake soaking water, add the first cup of liquid along with the mirin, miso paste, and shiitake powder. Reduce the heat to medium-low, keeping the liquid at a gentle simmer. Stir periodically, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot with your spatula to prevent the mixture from sticking and burning. Once the liquid has mostly absorbed into the grains, add in another cup, switching over to vegetable stock when you run out of shiitake soaking water.
  3. After about 25 minutes of cooking, the liquid should have absorbed into the rice, and the rice will be creamy but tender. Turn off the heat and add the fresh herbs, wasabi paste (if using) and black pepper, stirring thoroughly. Add the remaining salt, to taste.
  4. Gently fold in the caramelized shiitake and vegetables. Divide between 4 - 6 bowls and top with any of the optional garnishes and finishing suggestions. Enjoy right away while piping hot!


*Vegetables could include asparagus, marinated artichokes, snap peas, green peas, cherry tomatoes, corn kernels, diced zucchini, diced carrot, diced kabocha, chopped chestnuts, fresh spinach, quartered Brussels sprouts, baby spinach, arugula, and more.

**To make your own almond ricotta, combine 1 cup blanched, slivered almonds, 1 teaspoon nutritional yeast, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1/3 - 2/3 cup of water in your food processor. Pulse until creamy, adjusting the liquid as needed, until fairly smooth.

***Topping ideas include sliced avocado, sprouts or microgreens, truffle oil, sliced almonds, chopped hazelnuts, pistachios, baked tofu, and more.

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Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 388Total Fat: 20gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 15gCholesterol: 12mgSodium: 917mgCarbohydrates: 41gFiber: 6gSugar: 13gProtein: 13g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimations.

This post was made possible as a collaboration with SUGIMOTO Co. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!

8 thoughts on “Rice to Riches

    1. How I wish! I made this recipe so many times now, and somehow I still don’t end up with leftovers… ;)

  1. Ok, that seriously appeals. I love, love, love risotto but never thought of the Japanese take on it. My favorite part of risotto, though, is making patties of the leftovers the next day, pressing them in panko, and then frying them. SO good!!

    1. Now that idea needs a whole post in and of itself! Properly fried arancini are really something else.

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