The Japanese Fun Guy – Shiitake mushrooms

In the New York Times, Craig Claiborne shares the romantic notion that
‘The ancients believed that mushrooms were created by thunderbolts,
possibly because they flourished after rain.’

French horticulturalists pioneered mushroom reproduction and today mushroom cultivation stands as a thriving industry, offering an abundance of species available in autumn and throughout the year.

The Japanese Shiitake mushrooms are the second most-consumed mushrooms in the world. They have a pungent, woody flavour with a sweet, meaty texture. They are generally considered to have a neutral thermal nature in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). This means that they neither excessively heat nor cool the body but rather help to maintain balance.

Shiitake mushrooms have been used in TCM for centuries and are believed to have various health benefits, including boosting the immune system, supporting cardiovascular health, and promoting longevity. They are rich in nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which contribute to their therapeutic effects.

In the mid-eighties, the Japanese government approved a new product featuring Shiitake for the treatment of stomach and cervical cancers.  Concentrated forms of letinan, a shiitake extract, treat cancer, AIDS, diabetes, fibrocystic breast disease and other conditions with impressive results. Nutritionally, they fight viruses, lower cholesterol and regulate blood pressure.

Containing all eight of the essential amino acids, shiitake are also rich in Vitamin B12, Cobalamin, predominantly found in animal protein, an energy-boosting vitamin that is so often lacking in the vegetarian diet. They have natural antiviral and immune boosting properties and contain a sizeable amount of the protein, interferon that aids in building immunity against cancer.  Low in fat, they are a good source of fibre, potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, as well as niacin and other B group vitamins.

Although they are commonly available in their dried form, fresh Shiitake (“shii” is Japanese for oak and “take” meaning mushroom), mushrooms can be bought at various markets and are far superior.  Dried shiitake can be quite pungent, tough and overbearing, and the potentially harmful practice of using preservatives and chemicals to facilitate the drying and packaging processes must be taken into consideration.

Shiitake mushrooms are grown commercially by inoculating the cut logs of a particular  ‘sporing’ oak tree.  Their seasons are typically autumn and spring.  Externally, fresh shiitake are dark brown with smooth, velvety caps housing a fluffy fawn to pink flesh, with a slightly spongy texture.  Discard any hard stems before cooking, and store them in a brown paper bag in a dark place, or keep in the drawer of the refrigerator for up to 2-3 weeks.   

Cassoulet of Shiitake and adzuki beans with leek and ginger
2 cups fresh shiitake mushrooms, wiped over and cut into quarters
1 cup adzuki beans, soaked overnight
1 leek, finely sliced
2 stalks celery, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 teaspoons ginger, finely grated
2 cups good vegetable stock
1/4 cup Ponzu sauce
*Ponzu is a citrus flavoured soy sauce available from Japanese grocers

  1. Cook adzuki beans in plenty of boiling water until almost tender – about 30 minutes – do not to overcook, as they will become too soft. Drain and refresh under cold running water. Set aside. Heat 1/4 cup of the vegetable stock in pan.Add shiitake, garlic, leek and celery and sweat gently for 5 minutes
  2. Add cooked beans, Ponzu sauce and remaining vegetable stock
    Simmer gently over a low heat for a further 15 minutes until the beans are thoroughly cooked, adding more stock as required

Therapeutic Notes

The cassoulet is cooked slowly to maintain its warming nature and each individual component has been selected for their healing properties.  Adzuki beans have been used for their drying and warming nature and are complimented by the pungency of the ginger, which will help to stimulate the digestive fire. Adzuki beans strengthen the spleen and have an absorbent effect. Celery has been added for the drying effect it has and although it is a cooling food, the heat from the pungent vegetables will balance it so as to have the desired effect.  Leeks can help to resolve and clear phlegm, while ginger and garlic are hot foods and extremely beneficial overall.

*As with most legumes, it is best to soak them for at least six hours to remove the phytic acid and facilitate digestion.

Buckwheat, mushrooms & wakame



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