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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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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The Trouble with Truffles

When it comes to truffles, how much is too much? Is there even such a thing as “too much” when we’re talking about the most savory, hyper-palatable substance found in nature? Sure, it’s easy to go overboard with a few seemingly harmless extra drops of truffle oil, turning a previously balanced dish into an acrid chemistry experiment gone wrong, but that’s another story entirely. Most commercial options rely on entirely lab-created chemicals for their aroma, without a single fleck of fungus in sight. Carried by cheap filler oils, these knock-offs lack the subtle nuances, earthy richness, and depth of pure umami intensity distilled within real truffles. Dirty diamonds locked within nubby black exteriors that could just as easily be mistaken as rocks are the key to this taste of luxury that no scientist can replicate.

When you go all-in on the real deal, you’ll know the difference when you taste it. Immediately it hits you, sweeping you off your feet before that first bite even hits your taste buds. The aroma alone can stop a conversation in its tracks and turn heads, like a dazzling supermodel making a grand entrance at a party. This bombshell doesn’t need any makeup or designer clothing to captivate, though. All that brilliance and more is found within; inherent, implicit, obvious to see beyond shallow outward aesthetics.

The real trouble with truffles is that their delicate nuances begin to fade almost as soon as they’re unearthed. Part of their scarcity is due to this ephemeral quality. Even if you can get the real deal, fresh isn’t always best. Personally, my top pick is always preserved, since there’s no gambling with lack of access, nor variable quality. At least that’s the case with Truffle Hunter. There’s nowhere to hide on these short labels fronting meaty shavings of black summer truffles, lightly brined and kept pristine in extra virgin olive oil. In that two-for-one punch, you get the full-bodied fungus, AND true infused truffle oil.

Genuine luxury is sinking your teeth into one of those substantial sheets of pure umami power. Frequently recommended as a topper for crostini, that suggestion made me think of toast, which naturally leads to avocado toast, and the inspiration to embellish was unstoppable from there.

Avocado toast elevated to the status of fine fare, this breakfast staple is now fit for a crowd. Taking basic staples to the next level, a tiny dose of white truffle balsamic vinegar is blended into creamy, luscious cashew ricotta, harmonizing with the beautifully marbled slabs of black truffle sparkling on top.

Resting atop a lightly seasoned crust of crisp breadcrumbs, each layer is more decadent than the last. Buttery, bright green avocados take on a greater degree of decadence, heightened by the intense, earthy, almost nutty notes of truffles. You could always gild the lily with a finishing kiss of truffle salt… But that might just test the theory that too much is never enough.

Simply sublime, sublimely simple. It may be tough to go back to plain old avocados on bread after just one bite.

Continue reading “The Trouble with Truffles”

You Win Some, You Lose Some

It’s true that you can’t always win, but I have a feeling that it’s quite possible to always lose. Slogging through a bit of a losing streak myself, it certainly seems that way at least. My apricot ice cream lost, although I’m not the least bit surprised, having watched first-hand as the tally of my competitors’ votes swelled into impressive numbers, while my own inflated temporarily only to burst and collapse like a cheap inflatable pool toy. I’ve given up on entering blog raffles, as the suspense kills me and by the time some one else’s name is announced, you’re just beating a dead horse over here. Nope, I have better things to pin my hopes to. Even though I haven’t officially heard back from the lovely folks at Whole Foods about the most recent contest of theirs that I entered, I have no doubt that a gentle letter of rejection is sure to arrive any moment.

The premise for this contest was simple enough; Make a healthy meal for $4 or less per serving. No problem, that’s pretty much the norm around here anyways. Savories still aren’t my forte though, so taking the safer route, I whipped up a tasty tofu dish and an easy pilaf. Admittedly, the tofu was rather forgettable- Delicious, yes, but nothing to write home about. It was that pilaf, a bulgur pilaf to be exact, that really got my appetite going. I even contemplated sending in an entry of only the pilaf, since it’s a good balance of protein, grains, and veg if you ask me, and I’m all for one-dish meals as well.

Ginger, garlic, and miso make up a flavorful broth, which toothsome whole grain bulgur is only too happy to soak up. Rounded out by some nutty almonds and bright green peas, it’s a simple yet comforting dish that is agreeable to just about every palate. It might not win any awards, but it’s a keeper in my book.

Yield: Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side.

Miso Bulgur Pilaf

Miso Bulgur Pilaf

Ginger, garlic, and miso make up a flavorful broth, which toothsome whole grain bulgur is only too happy to soak up. Rounded out by some nutty almonds and bright green peas, it’s a simple yet comforting dish that is agreeable to just about every palate.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Additional Time 5 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 Cup Bulgur Wheat
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
  • 1 Teaspoon Soy Sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons Brown Rice Miso Paste
  • 1 3/4 Cups Water
  • 1/4 Cup Frozen Peas, Thawed
  • 1/2 Cup Whole Almonds, Toasted
  • 1 Tablespoon Chopped Chives

Instructions

  1. Heat a dry skillet over the stove and toss in the bulgur. Toast for about 10 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to keep the bulgur moving, until it smells nutty and turns slightly darker brown. Pour the grains out onto a plate, and place the emptied skillet back over the heat.
  2. Add in the oil, garlic and ginger, and cook for just a minute or two until the spices have browned a bit. Stir in the lemon zest, soy sauce, and miso paste, breaking up any lumps that may form. Stand back a bit while slowly pouring in the water, as it may hiss and splash slightly. Scrape everything off the bottom if it’s sticking, and add your toasted bulgur into the mix, along with the peas. Turn down the heat, cover, and let simmer for 15 minutes. If all of the liquid hasn’t been absorbed by then, simply continue to cook over low heat, uncovered, until it has all evaporated.
  3. Let stand for 5 minutes off the heat, and stir in the almonds and chives.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 198Total Fat: 13gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 11gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 331mgCarbohydrates: 17gFiber: 5gSugar: 2gProtein: 6g

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 estimates.