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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Stuffed to the Gills

Just like people, shiitake mushrooms come in all shapes and sizes.

Uniformity might be prized for mass-produced, cultivated mushrooms grown indoors, but greater flavor can be found in nature. Forest-grown Sugimoto shiitake are exposed to greater variation in sun, rain, and wind which in turn creates a greater depth of the flavor, richer texture, and higher nutritional value. This method has withstood the test of time, serving Japanese growers well for over 1000 years with countless bountiful harvests to show for it.

Since it is impossible to control the weather, these wild shiitake mushrooms develop into two primary classifications, largely dependent on the season: Donko and Koshin.

Donko are gathered before the mushroom can fully bloom or open up. These shiitake are a thicker, chewier, and meatier, but smaller overall. The name itself from the Chinese word for “winter,” as they’re harvested primarily in the cooler months from January to April.

Koshin, bearing flatter but larger caps, are named after the word for “fragrant.” Brilliantly aromatic, they produce an ambrosial bouquet of umami before you even take a bite. Fully mature when harvested, they’re inactive during the summer months due to the high temperatures, but flourish in fall for plentiful late autumn yields.

Although they’re born of the same spores, the mushrooms change shape and texture depending on the time of harvest.

Both varieties perform splendidly in a wide range of dishes, but to maximize the unique qualities of such delicately nuanced, artisanal products, it’s important to know their strengths. The best way to honor the work of the 600 family farmers, who painstakingly nurturing these spores deep in the mountains, is to treat their shiitake with care and respect.

Utilizing the inherent textural advantages the Donko shiitake has to offer in creating a firmer, juicier bite, they’re the only type of dried mushroom that can be brought back to life as a satisfying base for stuffing. Most others would buckle under the weight if dressed with a mere teaspoon topping, but these sturdy caps stand up to the demands as superlative finger foods.

Quick, homemade nut cheese dazzles with fresh herbs and a luscious creamy texture that seems to defy its dairy-free components. Vegan yogurt adds a slightly tangy, funky note, like earthy yet mild goat cheese, perfectly paired with the rich umami mushrooms underneath. Thick enough to spread on a bagel like cream cheese, it has a distinctly buttery quality thanks to a touch of nutritional yeast and sweet white miso paste. To enhance the aroma that might be lessened in the Donko shiitake, additional dried shiitake powder gives this schmear an irresistible final savory punch.

Grown in harmony with nature, both Koshin and Donko Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms lend that same symphonic balance to every dish.

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Art and the Zen of Japanese Cooking

Veganism is burgeoning across the globe, gaining traction at an exponential pace. Still in its infancy, the movement was seen as a niche trend a mere decade ago, and the word itself was coined relatively recently in 1944. That’s not to say that the concept of plant-based cooking is a new idea; Japanese Buddhist monks were well ahead of the curve, abstaining from the act of killing animals for human consumption for many centuries. Shojin Ryori is the art of zen cooking, a plant-based approach to simple preparations, with expert attention to quality, wholesomeness, and flavor.

Shojin” originally connoted a type of zeal in pursuing an enlightened state of mind. Breaking down the word further, “sho” means “to focus,” and “jin” means “advance forward along the way.” It’s the relentless pursuit bettering one’s self that drives the cuisine forward. Over time, shojin ryori’s health benefits and meticulous, artistic presentation contributed to Japan’s approach to fine dining, kaiseki.

Believed to cloud the spirit and interfere with meditation, the avoidance of flesh demonstrates respect for all life, which extends to an appreciation for plant life as well. In appreciation for their sacrifice, all parts of the plant are used. Things that we might throw away like cucumber peels or carrot tops are vital parts of the equation. Emphasizing the importance of every scrap, nothing goes to waste.

Additionally, unlike modern vegetarian food in Japan, shojin ryori dishes don’t contain garlic or onion, which are considered too pungent. Instead, natural flavor is drawn out through careful seasoning and gentle cooking processes. This is why shiitake mushrooms, concentrated sources of umami and tanmi, have been the critical backbone of countless zen dishes.

Beyond their Japanese origins, these same principles can be applied to western cuisine with great success, too. Take Italian minestrone, for example. Devised as a way to make the most of any scraps that might be on hand, this brothy soup is light and refreshing, yet wholly satisfying thanks to a rich palate of deep flavors, varied textures, vibrant colors, and ample umami. Since the exact components are flexible, it’s easy to bend the formula further to accommodate these zen principles.

Call it fusion if you must, but my shojin minestrone is in a different category from the typically overwrought, inelegant attempt at dumbing down Asian dishes to make them more palatable to hapless diners across the globe. Rather, by starting with potent Sugimoto dried shiitake, it takes the true essence of zen cooking to amplify ingredients found farther afield. Starting with a stock bolstered by the water used to rehydrate the mushrooms, you get all the tanmi properties infused into the liquid, along with the meaty texture of the caps.

Unique to Donko shiitake, this particular variety has a much thicker cap and tender stem, which means that every part of the mushroom can be chopped and added to the stew for a completely waste-less preparation. Forest-grown in Kyushu, a Southern island of Japan, they contains the largest amounts of Guanylate, which creates a much more intense savory flavor.

Buddhist monks were hip to the meatless movement long before it ever had a name. The wisest way to honor their innovation is to keep it alive, and keep innovating with their discoveries in mind.

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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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Holy Shiitake

Umami, the fifth taste, is no longer a mysterious phenomenon, relegated to dusty textbooks in chemistry labs. Everyone who’s marveled over the incredible depth of flavor of contained in a single drop of soy sauce, or savored the juicy flesh of a ripe tomato knows, just how compelling this sensation is. Coined in Japan over a century ago, umami refers to the taste of glutamate, inosinate, or guanylate, chemically speaking. These components are found in a variety of plant-based foods, which are critical for creating satisfying meatless meals. The greatest wealth of umami, and my personal favorite secret ingredient, is the shiitake mushroom.

Fresh shiitake mushrooms boast approximately 70mg of naturally occurring glutamate per 100g, but drying them increases their umami more than tenfold. Concentrated into an even smaller area, 100g of dried shiitake contain about 1060mg of glutamate AND 150mg of guanylate. I’m not much for math, but it’s easy to understand why even a single small mushroom cap can amplify any recipe to new savory heights.

Of course, not all shiitake are created equal. Like their luxurious fungi brethren, truffles, imposters in the marketplace offer tempting deals, much to the detriment of quality. Small, woody, bland, and muddy, bad mushrooms are the bane of any eater’s existence. Don’t gamble with your cooking; seek out high-quality shiitake from those who know them best. SUGIMOTO sells only premium, forest-grown shiitake mushrooms straight from Kyushu, Japan. Harvested from the natural sweet sap oak log, a collective of over 600 independent growers use 1,000-year-old Japanese techniques to cultivate sustainable harvests, producing the best tasting and textured shiitake possible.

Gently dehydrated over the course of 24 hours, freshness is locked in without the use of preservatives or pesticides, all while developing their distinctive umami essence. Separated into two categories based on size, Koshin are more dainty and delicate, while Donko are thicker and more robust. Both yield an incredible intensity of flavor and aroma, suitable for all sorts of soups, stews, salads, snacks, and just about anything else you want to add a greater depth of flavor or meaty bite. For the best results, both varieties should be soaked in cold water overnight, and ideally 24 hours, contrary to many instructions for a quick dip into boiling water. This slow rehydration process allows for every cell to plump with moisture, making even the tougher stems soft enough to enjoy.

For those who shrink at the sight of fungus in general, shiitake powder will become your new best friend. Mushroom haters needn’t fear these spores; unlike dried porcini, shiitake can enhance the taste of your cooking without adding the funky, earthy mushroom flavor that turns many away. The coarse grind allows for even dispersion through the dish, while lasting longer on your tongue, enveloping your whole mouth in savory flavor.

Umami-rich foods are not only more delicious, but have clear health benefits as well. They’re literally mouth-watering, and that saliva helps with digestion. Recent studies have also shown that they’re more filling, thus helpful for curbing appetite and aiding in weight management. Additionally, shiitake mushrooms are surprisingly rich in Vitamin D, containing your full daily recommended allowance in just 1 gram, or in other words, about 1/10th of a cap. Move over, milk!

Plant-based proteins really shine when the power of umami is applied with a deft hand. You don’t need to be an accomplished chef to harness the culinary capacity of dried shiitake mushrooms, though. As summer approaches, it’s time to dust off those grills and fire up some juicy burgers. Leave the cows out at pasture for this party; mushrooms do all the heavy lifting in these massive, meaty patties.

Chickpeas and mushrooms join forces to create supple yet sturdy burgers that are sure to satisfy the heartiest of appetites. Crisp on the outside, the initial crunchy bite yields easily to a tender interior, bursting with an intense depth of savory flavor.

Melting sumptuously into those supple centers isn’t cheese, but a generous dollop of homemade garlicky aioli, infused with even more shiitake goodness. Further amplifying the bold flavor that can only come from top notch shiitake powder, this spread comes together in mere minutes. I’d recommend making it in advance and keeping it on hand for smearing on all sorts of sandwiches, using as a dip for French fries, or drizzled over salads for a creamy dressing. In fact, you might want to double that recipe right off the bat. It’s irresistibly tempting to pour it on thick.

Where’s the meat? Right here, between two buns! Vegan meat is the new beef, make no mistake. You don’t need to buy into expensive, fancy, or highly-processed alternatives to get the same satisfying experience. Homemade burgers utilizing simple pantry staples are elevated to new heights when umami comes into play. SUGIMOTO dried shiitake mushrooms, in both whole and powdered formats, guarantee an unrivaled taste sensation with every bite. No one will guess your secret ingredient, but everyone will know in an instant that these aren’t your average, humdrum veggie burgers.

No matter how you top them, this entree will secure your spot as the grill master at your next cookout. Relish summer and all the seasons with the richness of umami close at hand!

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