Let’s Taco ‘Bout It

Imagine taking a bite into a crisp, juicy apple at the peak of the season, as sweet and fragrant as it can possibly get. Downright decadent, the experience goes well beyond simple sustenance. However, after that single bite, you toss the rest of the apple straight into the trash. Who could be so wasteful, so thoughtless, so downright heartless? Though the typical experience is less dramatic, perfectly good food is squandered like this every single day.

Despite best intentions, we often ignore leftovers and forget about perishables until they’ve withered in the vegetable bin, barely even fit to compost. Adding insult to injury, perfectly good ingredients are too frequently tossed for a lack of understanding. Dried shiitake mushrooms are a common victim of this crime, accused of having inedible stalks that must simply be removed and discarded. It’s high time we debunked this myth and restored the stem to a place of honor on our plates.

Make no mistake, shiitake mushroom stems are much more fibrous and tough compared to their tender, meaty caps, but they are entirely edible and packed with all the same rich umami flavor. As always, quality counts, so you can expect the best results from Sugimoto shiitakes, selectively grown for their incomparable culinary potential. In fact, the chewy quality that many write off as their downfall can actually be an asset in the right recipe.

When crafting a dish with only the caps, don’t think for a minute that the detached stems are dumped in the garbage. Since they’re small, I tend to keep a baggie of them in the freezer, filling it slowly until I’ve collected enough to cook with. That way, they won’t spoil before I have a good quantity to work with. Even if the dish isn’t focused on shiitake mushrooms, they add incredible depth to all sorts of soups, stews, curries, vegetable patés, stuffings, and beyond. Anywhere that a melange of vegetables can be added, finely minced shiitake stems are your new secret ingredient for even more savory, satisfying results.

Finely chopped, the hearty, toothsome texture enhances plant-based proteins with an extra meaty mouthfeel and incredibly rich, beefy taste. Easily surpassing more processed alternatives in both flavor and nutrition, it’s a wonder that such misinformation about this vital ingredient persists. Clearly, the people perpetuating the defamatory rumors about shiitake stems have never tried cooking them into hot, spicy taco filling. One bite of this quick fix meal would win over any cynics.

Bolstered by minced tempeh, this instant entree simmers with nuanced seasonings, easily adjusted to personal preferences. With a smoky, subtly charred edge from the kiss of a cast iron skillet, no one would ever miss the meat here. Especially when piled high on soft corn tortillas with a barrage of fresh salsa, herbs, and buttery avocado, it’s unthinkable that the key ingredient might have otherwise been destined for the landfill.

Don’t wait until taco Tuesday to whip up a batch. Beyond classic taco fodder, this meatless marvel makes an excellent pizza topper, superlative spaghetti sauce addition, and brilliant breakfast side. Waste not, want not, especially when it comes to prime Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms.

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Soaking it All in

In a world dominated by quick-fix meals, instant entrees, and fast food, it can be hard to deliberately slow down. If there’s a way to cook faster to eat sooner, why deny yourself that immediate gratification? Patience is truly a virtue, yielding even greater rewards to those who can wait. This is true of life in general, and shiitake mushrooms in particular.

Yes, dried shiitake mushrooms need time to fully rehydrate, reviving to their original brilliance with even greater savory depth than before. Most recipes haphazardly plunge them into boiling water for 15 – 20 minutes, rushing through the process just to get them to a generally edible state. Sure, they’ll be soft enough to slice, but so much of their rich, distinctive aroma will be lost that you might as well be using a bland button mushroom instead. These hot shiitakes will be a far cry from the flavorful powerhouses they could have been.

Sugimoto shiitake are dried using a far-infrared drying approach, which minimizes moisture to less than 9% (whereas others are 12% or more) to preserve the highest quality possible. This process breaks the Shiitake’s cell membrane, allowing it to release a greater amount of Guanylate when rehydrated. Soaking for at least 12 hours and ideally 24 hours in cold water slowly, gently coaxes out the full range of savory flavors locked inside. The texture is remarkably better, too, producing plump caps with a juicy yet tender bite.

If you must take a shortcut, there is one way to speed things up; remove the stems first, and you can reduce the overall time to about 8 hours. You do still need to plan ahead of course, but if you start thinking about dinner at breakfast time like me, this trick is an invaluable ace to have up your sleeve. That said, patience is definitely not my strong suit, so I’ve learned to keep soaked shiitake in the fridge at all times, ready whenever cravings might strike.

One of my favorite pasta dishes is mushroom stroganoff, which has evolved considerably through equal parts education and experimentation. It can be thrown together in minutes or raised to new culinary heights given greater advanced planning. Any sort of pasta will do in a pinch, but homemade pasta infused with the deep savory flavor of Sugimoto dried shiitake powder puts it in a whole new category of everyday indulgence.

Garlicky cream sauce bathes the cascading noodles in a tidal wave of luscious mushroom goodness, infusing every element of the dish with incredible amounts of umami and tanmi. Though the original version utilizes rough cuts of beef, thickly sliced shiitake are meaty enough to satisfy without any sacrifice.

It really does pay to slow down, take the long route, and savor every moment. This mushroom stroganoff may take a while from start to finish, but it disappears quickly.

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Tanmi, the Latest Ancient Taste Sensation

Umami is well known and highly regarded as the fifth taste, the savory flavors we all know and love, but do you know about the sixth taste? Tanmi is a bit harder to describe, defying direct translation from Japanese to English, which explains a large part of its much slower ascent into widespread awareness.

Working in concert with the rich, robust tastes associated with umami, it provides a balancing counterpoint. “Natural” and “fresh” are the best words to explain it; the light, delicate touch of a practiced chef, emphasizing the inherent goodness of an ingredient without heavy seasoning. Start with the best food and allow it to shine for the greatest example of tanmi in action.

The gentle whisper of kombu infused into pale amber dashi broth? The subtle nutty, toasted green tea leaves that go into a hojicha latte, brightened with whole bean soy milk? You guessed it: those utterly enthralling gustatory experiences are all thanks to tanmi.

Shiitake, though typically associated with heavy, bold, hearty dishes, can also pack a punch of tanmi that will enhance any meal when properly harnessed. Especially when employing Sugimoto Shiitake Powder, just a pinch goes a long way to amplify the carefully layered flavors already developing, without creating an overwhelming mushroom sledgehammer that obliterates delicate nuances.

In the case of seared hearts of palm “scallops”, in fact, there’s no discernible mushroom character at all. It just serves as a spotlight to let the vegetables themselves shine. Like when salt is expertly applied, the results shouldn’t taste overtly salty, but some how, almost imperceptibly, indescribably, better.

Resting on a lush bed of cauliflower puree, tender sliced hearts of palm seamlessly take the place of seafood. Crunchy bites of pistachio punctuate the creamy base, which is all at once light yet decadent. Seasoned with bright, fresh lemon and parsley, the gentle savory undercurrent running through the complete plate could easily sweep the unsuspecting diner out with the tide.

Tanmi is also associated with the satisfaction after eating; a state of zen and contentment, rather than a food coma. One plate will crush all food cravings without leaving you feeling weighed down.

Create the best versions of your favorite dishes with the secret power of tanmi in your tool belt. Sugimoto Shiitake Powder is your ticket to instant culinary elevation, and ultimately, gratification.

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Cooking on Acid

How on earth did I end up with so much vinegar?

Surveying the state of my pantry, you’d think I was in the pickling business. Rice vinegar, white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, coconut vinegar, champagne vinegar, all in attendance, front and center on the shelves, to say nothing of the reductions, infusions, and blends lurking in back.

Tart, tangy liquids made through the fermentation of ethanol alcohol are the secret ingredients in the earliest recorded attempts at home cooking. The evidence is there, literally written in stone, all cross this tiny blue marble known as planet earth.

Vinegar, or more broadly acid of any variety is the real secret ingredient to any successfully balanced dish. Instantly heightening flavors much the way that salt and sugar can, without spiking blood pressure or tempting hyperglycemia, just a splash goes a long way in everything from marinara sauce to ice cream. Weaving seamlessly into the grander flavor tapestry, you’d never know this humble player was the one knitting everything together behind the scenes. That is, unless you chose to fully embrace such a sour superstar.

Adobo is the acidic perfect example. Leaning heavily into a pungent brew of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, bay leaves, and black peppercorns, it’s punchy and bold, tart and tangy, unapologetically, fiercely flavorful. Adobo is not the kind of dish you serve with delicate white wine on your finest plates; adobo is a brash party-starter, promising a raucous good time.

Every Filipino family has their own recipe, claiming theirs to be the best of the batch, and I certainly cannot compete with such fervent claims. I can, however, approximate something wholly delicious inspired by the art form, making it quicker, easier, and of course, much more vegan than traditional renditions.

Meaty mushrooms and chunks of seitan take the place of long-simmered beef, automatically adding a rich, deeply umami taste. Speaking to the versatility of vinegar itself, even while prominently highlighted in this Filipino staple, any range of options, or even a blend will kick things up just as brilliantly. This is a good opportunity to clear out the pantry of any odd drips and drabs leftover, should you obsessively hold on to those little bottles, too.

Adobo is possibly even better the day after cooking, so I’d implore you to double the recipe for a generous second helping later down the road. It will be tough to keep around in any great quantity no matter what.

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Cacio-22

How do you make cacio e pepe, without butter, cheese, or cream? Just add joy.

No wait, that’s actually Joi, your new best friend for creamy comfort food. Though these bases are essentially condensed plant milks, I’ve found them most useful for creating quick cream sauces and soups for savory dishes, or heavy cream for desserts.

Turning nut butter into milk is one of my favorite thrifty tricks. When you’re in the middle of a recipe, burners blazing with the dials cranked up to 11, it’s the worst feeling to discover that you’re missing a critical ingredient. I tend to guzzle non-dairy milk by the gallon, despite the fact that it only goes into my coffee, which can lead to a terrible disappointment if I don’t double up at the store.

Typically, it takes just 1 – 2 tablespoons of raw nut butter, be it almond, cashew, or even peanut, blended with 1 cup of water, to fill the gaps. It’s not the most elegant solution; naturally, it separates if it sits around too long, curdles in coffee, and comes with a heavier nut flavor than something specifically formulated for cooking or drinking straight.

Enter: Joi, your new shelf-stable, bulk milk best friend. I’m IN LOVE, full stop, with the cashew version for its rich yet neutral flavor to meld seamlessly with absolutely anything. Don’t believe me? Fine, don’t take my word for you; taste it for yourself! Use the code “BITTERSWEET” for 10% off of their website, or click straight through the link to have it applied automatically.

Once you’ve stocked up, hurry back here to make this easy winner. You could still use my old trick in a pinch, employing raw, pure cashew butter in times of need (and untenable cravings.) The name may translate to “cheese and pepper,” but in common parlance, it means creamy, cheesy pasta sparkling with freshly cracked black pepper. It’s the original mac and cheese from ancient Rome, polished up with modern methods. Who needs the blue box when you can start from scratch with equally gratifying instant results?

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Bowl-In-One

Say you’re craving Japanese food, and most people will automatically think of sushi. Maybe ramen, or udon, but almost never a bowlful of rice garnished with ground meat. At least, that’s been my personal experience, even as a lover of all things from the Land of the Rising Sun.

Soboro donburi, also known as soboro don, is a traditional Japanese dish of lightly seasoned ground chicken served over a bed of warm sushi rice. Yes, it does have a deep rooted history in the national cuisine, dating back to the Meiji era (1868-1912) as the nation became industrialized and homemakers had less time to dabble about in the kitchen. A complete bowl-in-one was highly appealing, along with the minimalist composition that allowed these comforting meals to come together quickly and affordably.

In the spirit of thrift, any type of ground protein is a reasonable substitute that still rings true to the original concept, which is why my meatless soboro is as authentically Japanese as any other yoshoku.

Commonly accompanied by scrambled eggs and a simple green vegetable, it’s unfussy everyday fare that follows more of a blueprint than hard and fast recipe. For anyone else seeking a bite of comfort in a pinch, consider this your new go-to.

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