Healing Kitchen

Shiitake Mushrooms
The healing power of shiitake mushrooms has been known for centuries, throughout China, Japan, and Korea. Ancient healers prescribed them for a number of ailments such as fatigue, liver ailments, vision problems, sinus conditions, colds, gastrointestinal ailments. Shiitake were also prescribed as a general prophyllactic to promote longevity, vitality, and well-being.

What the ancients knew, modern medicine is just beginning to discover. Compounds in shiitake mushrooms--especially a phytochemical called lentinan--have been subjected to various clinical studies, and are thought to have possible benefit for a number of disorders, including cancer, heart disease, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, hepatitis, AIDS, and herpes (and other viral conditions).

In addition to the phytochemicals that seem to bring health benefits, these delightful fungi are also host to a significant number of macro- and micronutrients. They have high levels of amino acids (including glutamic acid, a nonessential amino acid considered to be "brain food" due to its ability to stimulate neurotransmitter activity as well as its ability to transport potassium to the brain), protein, enzymes (dietary enzymes are vital for proper absorption of nutrients and digestion of food), dietary fiber, and various vitamins and minerals, including ergosterol, which can be converted by sunlight into vitamin D.

Last, but not least, shiitake are delicious. Luckily for both the medical and culinary worlds, shiitake are now among the most-cultivated edible mushrooms in the world.

The Recipes
Before I sat down and started plotting out the recipes to be included in this piece, I spoke with Maureen Mulhern-White (our Nutrition Editor) to make sure that heat would not destroy the lentinan in the mushrooms. After a good deal of research, she came up with the answer, which was no, so I had the go-ahead to heat and cook to my heart's content. The first recipe, Shiitake Mushroom Burgers, is an intensely rich combination of fresh and dried shiitake mushrooms with the addition of bulgur wheat (which mimics the mouth feel of ground meat). Topped with your favorite salsa, ketchup, or a slice of tomato and red onion, this makes a substantial meal. Braised Shiitakes & Artichokes--an earthy combination of mushrooms, potatoes, and artichokes--is heightened by a splash of fresh lemon juice. The result, a luscious stew hearty enough for a main course. Finally, shiitakes, onions, and corn are roasted and then used as a filling for Roasted Shiitake & Manchego Quesadillas. The buttery, nutty flavor of Manchego cheese from Spain complements the succulent shiitake-corn combination.

Shiitake Tips
When shopping for shiitake mushrooms, look for caps that are firm and fleshy. Shiitake mushroom stems are tough and not good for eating, so simply trim them off with a knife (if you've got a bunch, you could save them and use them to make a mushroom stock or add them to a vegetable or chicken broth). To reconstitute dried shiitakes, place them in a bowl hot water to cover. Soak for 20 to 30 minutes to soften. Once reconstituted, save the soaking liquid for use in the dish you're preparing or freeze and reserve for soups and sauces. Use the reconstituted mushrooms as your recipe directs.

Author: Sandra Rose Gluck
Date Published: 04/10/2000
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