Mushrooms, Most Honorable


Indeed, not only do shitake mushrooms bring today’s entry much regard, they also glorify it with anticipation of a great meal.  The Japanese invented a word to describe the fifth element to engage the tongue, umami.  The term has gained wide acclaim lately, both in and out of food circles, and it signifies a delightfully satisfying, savory sensation that caresses the  mouth and gets the juices flowing.  Unsurprisingly, shitakes are among umami‘s ablest vehicles.

When Milk Street featured a noodle dish rich in mushrooms in its September-October 2019 issue, the picture alone was enough to unleash cravings.  Months, it turns out, though, before the dream was realized.  You can imagine the anticipation at that point.  Fortunately, Udon Noodles with Shitake Mushrooms and Spinach features ingredients not at all difficult to acquire, even as shelves have yet to recover fully from the mob’s earlier deprivations.

It is what it is, but as long as shitake mushroom are available, all is well in the culinary world.  Fortunately, there is an abundance:

ShitakesEven before they were stemmed, brushed and sliced, they bring the dish much honor!

Shitakes are the umami champions here, but other stars illuminate the savory sky.  To begin, a flavorful combination of soy sauce and mirin (a Japanese rice wine somewhat similar to sake) imparts a mildly rich brininess that enhances the other flavors.  A drizzle of silky sesame oil and nutty toasted sesame seeds completes umami‘s exuberance.

Not that the dish offers but one allurement.  Intertwined in the mix are baby spinach leaves, fired briefly, just enough to baste them and to infuse them with other flavors.  Yet still, the heat has light enough a touch to preserve much of the spinach’s leafy contrast.

Also present are udon, Japanese wheat noodles.   Cooked until tender, but still a bit toothsome, they glide through the bowl, picking up flavors along the way.  Not much more to note on them, other than that they come gathered into neat little bundles, so very Japanese, thoughtful, useful and convenient:

Udon NoodlesPretty cool, huh?

Today’s offering brings to the bowl enough to supply a satisfying light summer dinner, even without the mushrooms.  Still, the shitake elevates this from something that’s “quite good enough” to an extraordinary meal.  The mushrooms add such flavored richness, and produce adequate chewiness, to make them easily mistaken for meat.  If that’s what you seek.  Still, nothing here but the best found in a peaceful garden and in the majestic grove just beyond.  Oh, shitake, your habits are most honorable!

*****

Udon Noodles with Shitake Mushrooms and Spinach

  • 10 ounces dried udon noodles (*1)
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil (*2)
  • 1/4 cup sherry (*3)
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons oil (*4)
  • 1 pound fresh shitake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 ounces baby spinach
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • toasted sesame oil (*5)
  • sesame seeds, for garnish

In a large pot, bring four quarts of water to a boil.  Add the dried udon and cook, stirring, until al dente, about three minutes.  Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, then drain noodles and rinse with cold water.  Toss with a tablespoon of neutral oil (*2) and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the sherry, soy sauce and sugar.  Set aside.

Set a wok or a large skillet over a medium-high flame.  Pour in two tablespoons of oil.  When it shimmers, add the shitake mushrooms and salt. Stir to coat, then cover and cook, lifting lid occasionally to stir, about five minutes.

When mushrooms are tender and browned, add the spinach and the sherry-soy sauce mixture.  Stir, scraping the bottom, until the spinach wilts, about thirty seconds.  Add the udon, the white pepper and the 1/2 cup of water you reserved.  Cook, tossing, until the noodles are heated through, about a minute.

Drizzle with toasted sesame seed oil, sprinkle with sesame seeds, and serve,

NOTES:

1 – Udon noodles are fairly easy to obtain, but if you can’t find them, a similar quantity of rice noodles or even fettucine would work.

2 – Why not go with sesame oil from the very beginning?  Like vegetable or grapeseed oils, it has a subtle flavor and, unlike the other two, its essence anticipates the final product.

3 – Sherry?  In a Japanese dish?  All due respect to sherry, and much is due, but mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine) is even more integral a choice.  Of course, if you don’t have mirin, sherry will do.

4 – Again, as the variety isn’t specified, keep things on a roll with sesame oil.

5 – There you are, sesame oil.  I was wondering where you went.

54 thoughts on “Mushrooms, Most Honorable

    1. Much appreciated! I raise my imaginary Cup of Jo’ to yours in agreement.

      Glad you’re here, and I’d like to invite you to check back every once in a while. Plenty of mushroom ideas yet to be, as well as other things you may find interesting. Hope to talk to you again soon!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. ok fortunately I’ve just finished breakfast but my mouth sure is watering!

    This is a great combination of some of my favourite tastes, and as usual you weave a tempting tease of taste in your intro … even if you lived on the other side of my vast country I would be revving the car right now and driving over!

    Fortunately you are on the opposite side of the globe 😦
    so unfortunately you don’t have my free service of taster …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Clever! Too bad you don’t have anyone, Crystal, with whom to share your wit, such as family, students or blog readers.

      As for mushrooms, agreed. But for the grace of a well-seasoned drumstick (and maybe a Chesapeake crab or two), there goes vegetarian I…

      Like

      1. More like vice-versa, Crystal! We accent the umami in each other’s writing, don’t we?

        Speaking of, why do you think there’s been a sudden personal interest lately in Japanese cuisine? No, it isn’t because I just watched “Bridge on the River Kwai” for, like, the 1,345th time. Though, like most guys, I probably did.

        No, Colonel Saito, it’s the umami!

        Like

      2. No worries, Crystal. “Kwai” is an acquired taste, largely acquired with testosterone. It’s pretty much the guys’ version of a “chick flick.” Throw in “Shawshank,” “Goldfinger” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” and you have the whole collection.

        Speaking of tastes, gyoza constitutes one of the best of them. When you mentioned 1,345 dumplings, I hope you meant in one sitting, because that’s usually my total. So nuts am I on the subject, I even made Momos (Tibetan dumplings) a couple years ago. Couldn’t find ground yak, though, so had to settle for ground beef. 🎂

        Wait.. that emoji made no sense. How about 😉?

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Mia! Mushrooms produce all manner of wonders, yet shitakes are among the finest.

      Of course, there’s nothing wrong with “plain ol'” snow-cap (button) mushrooms, either!

      Pretty safe to say, we haven’t seen the last of them yet. Oh my, how fortunate!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s too bad, Eliza. Distaste. principle, or a little of both?

      Naturally, it makes my day when a recipe connects with a reader, but just as effective a boost is when she still appreciates it, despite…

      Thank you, Eliza, and may future entries inspire a little more than just an academic interest.

      Like

  2. Very nice! I just used the last of my dried shiitakes in an extremely delicious laska soup recipe. I don’t think the mushrooms are a classic ingredient in the dish but mushrooms do make most savory dishes better, don’t they?

    Is it strange that the photo of the noodles brings to mind rolled sushi mats? The way they are so perfectly bundled looks exactly like the sushi mat I have here. I wondered for a second why you needed the mats for a noodle recipe! That’s what I get for scanning photos prior to reading. haha

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well played, Summer! Might I be too greedy a reader, in hoping the soup makes an appearance someday on your site?

      I just bought a donabe (Japanese clay cooking pot) recently. After seasoning the vessel, which is a somewhat involved process, many culinary discoveries await. Had to research the seasoning instructions, by the way, as those included with the donabe are in Japanese only. That speaks to the pot’s desirability and authenticity, though not to its ease of use (at least not for someone living about 8,000 miles from Kyoto).

      Now you have me wondering, Summer – did i throw udon in with the mushrooms, or rolled-up sushi mats? They did seem to be a little chewy, but figured they just had attained al dente perfection. Maybe not.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wasn’t planning on sharing the laska soup recipe because it doesn’t feel like mine. I made quite a few changes to a recipe I found online but it is still pretty far removed from anything I would have come up with on my own. Plus I worry that my additions make the soup inauthentic. Maybe I am overthinking it.

        Sometimes I’ll create several different versions of a recipe before I become comfortable with it. If I get to that place with the soup I will definitely post my favorite version!

        I’m really looking forward to seeing what you create with the donabe! Hopefully directions can be found online so you can get a good English translation.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you, Summer! Actually, I would argue that in making all the changes and improvements, you’ve done precisely that – made the recipe your own.

        Never think a recipe is the final word. No, it’s merely a snapshot of that particular moment. With a few jogs here and a couple enhancements there, you help it on its way. In so doing, it becomes yours.

        That said, you have real talent, because, still, you do that only part of the time. Mostly, you bring us new innovations, entirely your own. If anyone has the “street cred” to post another’s recipes occasionally, reformed a la Summer, it’s you.

        By the way, the future promises much donabe, especially as I learned how to season the bloody thing, but they won’t show until next year sometime. Right now, the waiting list is extensive and the donabe, promising as it is, must wait its turn.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Wow! Next year?!? You are planning things out far farther ahead than I am. Impressive!

        I was thinking at some point of showing some of the more adventurous dishes I’ve been eating and link back to the original recipe source, as you do. For instance, this evening we had pork shoulder braised in milk and flavored with some of my garden herbs (including pineapple sage and orange thyme). The recipe suggested serving it over polenta but I substituted cocoyam fufu because I had a bit of fufu mix left in the pantry. Truly fusion cuisine!

        Sometimes posting simple recipes can be frustrating because it is 99.9% guaranteed that someone came up with something very similar before I did! I remember once I came up with a stuffed pepper recipe with around 10 ingredients and later found almost the exact recipe published by someone else earlier! Using esoteric ingredients helps to guarantee there are no duplicate recipes out there… but then they lose general appeal. It’s tough! I’m not entirely sure the best direction to go in sometimes.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Not just next year, Summer, but into 2022! When a recipe appeals, it joins the lineup. No shortage of ideas, that’s for sure! As long as you stay interested, I’ll keep trying new things.

        It’s not important to me that I’m the first, or the only one, to publish a recipe. Besides, some changes or reforms are inevitable, meaning there’s almost no way someone will publish “exactly” what I did. Not only that, there’s also the presentation and the photography, which are sure to be unique!

        Fufu, huh? Impressive, Summer! That’s West African, is it not? If I recall correctly, there were quite a few variations form Nigeria alone. Major props to you for incorporating unexpected ingredients into you daily menus. That you do so on nearly a daily basis, is all-the-more striking a feat. You bring much prestige to the culinary world.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. 2022?!? I’m still thinking about August over here. (Yes, August 2020! haha) It sounds like you have enough inspiration where you could start posting a couple of times per week as well!

        Yes, fufu is a part of quite a few of the cuisines in West Africa. There are a number of starchy veggies that can be used. We used to have a store in the area that specialized in foods common to several parts of Africa that were otherwise difficult to find around here. They closed a couple of years ago, so I figured it was definitely time to finish up the fufu mix! haha

        Liked by 1 person

      6. How fortunate your family. to have someone like you, Summer, ably conversant in so much the world puts on its tables, and smart enough to maximize their nutritional contributions. Oh, and talented enough to produce them with style, flair, and yes, a touch of whimsy.

        As for me, mind you, menu items are dreamed through 2022, yet most are a fair distance from waking. As I work a full-time (plus) job, one recipe a week is all I can manage to prepare, photograph and describe. Plus, while I’m not quite the social butterfly, there are activities aside from working, cooking and writing. After all, I’d like this blog to remain an enjoyable diversion, and not to become an all-consuming obligation!

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Yes, website maintainance can become all-consuming, so best to stick to what fits into your life! Plus the things that (supposedly) can help you to succeed online keep changing. I was watching a webinar with my son (he might be getting into social media management for work) and they were really stressing the importance of video. As a result, I’ve really been considering incorporating more videos into my recipes. Is the investment of time ultimately worth it? I wish I had a crystal ball that could tell me the answer to that question.

        I figure I can always drop down to one post per week if I ever get too overwhelmed. Right now, I’m doing ok keeping up! I think it’s smart to make adjustments if greater life balance is needed.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Quite intelligent, indeed, my friend. At one point, I got the notion to try two posts a week, like so many out there are doing.

        It didn’t last long, as it became a considerable burden, and robbed cooking of any joy. Fortunately, I recognized this right away and put on the brakes before the dream careened over a cliff.

        Videos would be cool, of course, but your writing and descriptions already provide ample animation. Video might be an important supplement for those whose words lack a certain force, but you’re there already. Add a video to your posts, Summer, and your readers are likely to go into sensory overload.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. I feel a bit conflicted about the videos. On the one hand, the webinar I attended basically made it sound like still pictures and blogs are dying modes of communication. They threw out a lot of stats to back up their points. It was discouraging. 😦

        On the other hand, a lot of us bloggers are still reading posts. 😀 If I start noticing more/longer visits on posts with videos, I guess the public has spoken!

        Liked by 1 person

      10. Oh, I definitely appreciate your uncertainty about videos, Summer. One does what one can to stay current, but if the public isn’t clamoring quite yet, best to wait to see what develops.

        As far as I’m concerned, I have the luxury of running this blog merely as a hobby. As result, there’s not the same necessity to keep to the cutting edge. Sure, I love getting visitors, and my heart leaps when I look at the numbers and I see a nice increase, but if the public ever looses interest, then, well, it was a good run.

        Made much better by meeting people like you, Summer. No matter what happens, I still will love to cook and experiment. Now, how public that experimentation remains, depends entirely on how video-addled readers become.

        Liked by 1 person

      11. As a little test, I added a video to my chorizo post. Nothing too exciting, just showing what the vacuum sealing process looks like when it’s done correctly. That post is currently getting more and longer visits than anything else on my site. Hmmm

        Based on that single experiment, I’m thinking videos might be the key to making a reasonable part-time income on the site. I’m planning on adding more starting in August. We’ll see!

        I’m still amazed that there are couples making their entire living off of running food websites. The income from this is so unpredictable. It’s a risky business, to be sure. Even if I were doing very well, I’d hestitate to ask my husband if he wants to join me full-time.

        Liked by 1 person

      12. Oh Summer, I understand exactly what you’re writing! Don’t know about you, but I don’t know that I ever could overcome the gnawing fear I’d persuade my significant other to jump careers for mine, only to have the enterprise fizzle shortly thereafter.

        Really interesting first-hand report about videos on your site. Seems to bear out what you’ve heard lately. Hey, if you’re adept at making videos, why not? Maybe one of these days we’ll see some air fryer action!

        When I first started blogging, I heard about people, I believe they’re called, “influencers,” who are so hip, so stylish, companies actually pay them, and pay them well, to promote their products. Not only that, but they even get stuff like all-expenses paid vacations too.

        There was one woman, sufficiently attractive and trendy, her year was filled with vacations on which the cruise lines, air carriers and resorts sent her and her boyfriend. Not only that, but they paid her too. So well, in fact. she could live comfortably in Manhattan, apparently with no income other than what she was getting for being seen using select products.

        I wonder where she is now. As you mention, it’s such an unpredictable endeavor, and this whole pandemic has torpedoed absolutely the lavish destination vacations of years past. Somehow, I don’t think Norwegian is so eager anymore to pay her and her boyfriend $20,000 to coo over a (free, for the couple at least) three-week Caribbean cruise.

        Liked by 1 person

      13. It’s a coincidence that you mentioned this because I just had a travel company ask me about sponsored posts! I have to wonder where they are sending people right now. So many things have been cancelled locally and abroad. I told them I’d be happy to work with them if they had a food-related travel experience in mind. (Why not, right?)

        I doubt I’ll ever get to the mega-influencer status that you are describing. That’s pretty wild, and I hope she had fun while it lasted!

        Liked by 1 person

      14. That’s a great question, Summer! While you certainly deserve the break and the recognition (not to mention the fact I’m curious as h*** to hear what they propose), how would this even work? We aren’t exactly mobile right now, and travel beyond a modest road trip still is off in the future sometime. Obviously, though, I’m far from the only person who reads your blog!

        As for the mega-influences, you have so much tied into it, not the least of which are the vagaries of pop stardom. By that standard, the person who’s “All That,” and whose endorsements set checkbooks fluttering, only has a shelf life of a year or two before becoming yesterday’s news. And this was in a pre-pandemic world too. Even the most stylish of the ultra-cool, back in March, hasn’t been able to board a cruise since then.

        Liked by 1 person

      15. I haven’t heard back but honestly if they took a look at my site, they’d see I’m all about food with nothing travel-related. The general “lifestyle” blogs may afford more opportunities.

        I was looking at my analytics the other day and noticing a lot of people use my print recipe pages. It’s funny, I was debating whether or not to include the print button. I print a lot of recipes but I know a lot of people opt for paperless these days. It kind of makes me think I’m attracting a lot of older introverts like me. lol I’m honored they decided that something I put out there was good enough to put in their recipe binder or whatever their system is.

        Liked by 1 person

      16. That’s what I do, Summer, is print the recipes, either via the button provided, or by doing a print page if a “Print” button isn’t visible.

        There’s just a tactile pleasure in a well-stocked (and slightly disheveled) recipe binder. The pictures bring about fond reminisces, or dreams of future exploits. Try getting that from a tablet or a smartphone! God, did that make me sound about 105, or what?

        Much as I like to fancy myself “cutting-edge” (because I’m on this here internet thing, don’t you know?) I think I shade closer to the older introvert side than I’d care to admit.

        Well, the “introvert” part improves with the day. Though, alas, Summer, unless you’ve got the Fountain of Youth up there in Connecticut, there’s not much any of us can do about the “older” part. Except to take comfort in the fact Time comes for everyone. Even the uber-current video junkies have been known to utter things along the lines of, “They never would have allowed that in my day.”

        Liked by 1 person

      17. That’s so funny that you use recipe binders as well! I think it’s smart. Sometimes websites completely vanish; I’ve lost a few favorite recipes in the past because I did not print them 😦

        You could actually turn all of the recipes on your blog into a book! I did that with an old website I used to run. It wasn’t a recipe site but I imagine creating a cookbook would be a similar process. I might do that with my site at some point.

        Liked by 1 person

      18. Summer, that’s a great idea, particularly as your site consists almost exclusively of recipes you’ve developed and perfected yourself. So much “original scholarship,” it’s be a shame not to publish all that work somewhere. Especially as the illustrations already accompany.

        You know, a site I used to frequent just disappeared one day, completely reinforcing what you’re saying. As disappointing as the vanishing was, it did vault me from a culinary rut, leading eventually to all sorts of new endeavors.

        Liked by 1 person

      19. Yep, Summer, I’ve decided that, if ever I run out of ideas,, readers, or inspirations (no sign of any dwindling soon, by the way), I’m going to keep the site active, at least until WP pulls the plug.

        Fortunately, I already have ideas lined up for years. Then you, the readers, keep making my week, each and every week That, in turn, keeps the whole “inspiration” thing going. A pretty neat self-sustaining system, don’t you think?

        Like

  3. Looks delicious. A magnificent combination of ingredients. I love mushroom melodies so I might add in a couple other kinds. Other than this dish looks great as is. No substitutions! 😋

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I had to look that one up. Hadn’t heard of that one. Interesting! Have you tried the Asian markets, not sure if you have any where you are. We have several here. Will have to look for that one next time I go.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Good idea, JoAnn! Actually, we do have an Asian market, across the suburb from here. When the time comes, it may be a fresher and, of course, cheaper alternative to mail order.

        Ultimately, you may find what you need at the local grocers. As I recall from visiting my grandparents, Florida’s supermarkets are pretty well-stocked. Thanks no doubt to the state being cultivation-friendly, and to it boasting significant populations of people who started life elsewhere.

        I remember the first time I saw bags of Key Limes for sale in Publix I was flabbergasted . Now, ten years later, even the local supermarket carries them regularly.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Oh for sure. I still remember as a kid when our local grocery store began carrying fresh whole coconuts. My dad loved them and would get them frequently. I guess that’s why I love coconut so much… which reminds me that I haven’t posted about coconuts in a while. A travesty that will need remedied soon.

        Publix is a great store… if you can’t find an item elsewhere you can often find it at Publix.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. That’s a promise, JoAnn? You’ve written it, and so it shall be. Coconuts don’t forget, and neither have your fans.

        You know what’s been a surprising source lately? Super Wal Mart. Usually, I avoid the store, Wal Mart People, and all. I know, I’m a snob, but our SWM is somewhat upscale. For a Wal Mart, at least. Nearly as many BMWs and Lexuses (Lexi?) in the parking lot as there are pickups and vans.

        Anyway, our local produce department, usually well-stocked, has been plum out of tomatillos for a month. In desperation I crossed the highway to SWM, and the risk was rewarded! There, just above the scallions, were vibrant green globes in all their husked glory.

        Steal a march from the best produce department outside the city, would you, SWM?

        Liked by 1 person

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