Japan: A Mushroom Lover’s Heaven
Where is this located? Japan, of course!
First, a little backstory: I love mushrooms, but my husband is not the biggest fan. In a moment of pure fate, he gave me a cookbook on Japanese cooking for a holiday gift. We were living in the Azores where Japanese food doesn’t really exist, but he knew I would be interested in the cookbook (let’s face it, the pictures were amazing — how could I not be interested?). One recipe was for a dish using more varieties of mushroom than I can count on one hand. I sighed and said, “Where on earth am I ever going to find the ingredients needed to make this?” The next day, my husband found out that he had orders to Japan — a mushroom lover’s heaven!
My first few weeks in Japan were filled with trips to the grocery store. Knowing Japan has tons of mushrooms, I still never expected to see that all grocery stores had such a large mushroom section. I mean entire refrigerated cases. I'm sure many locals thought it was funny to see an American in their rural neighborhood supermarket, standing, staring and drooling over the mushroom display.
The more popular ones in Japan are enoki, shiitake, maitake and one of my favorites, eringi (also know as king trumpet). Shiitakes have become quite common in the U.S., but you may be less familiar with enoki and eringi. The best way to prepare these is with an Asian flair, so season using typical Asian flavors. Soy sauce is always a go-to Asian flavor (although high in sodium, so don’t overdo it), but don’t forget about sesame, miso and garlic. Both of these mushrooms are not as flavorful as others and have different textures than most, but they can make a really nice addition to your meals.
Mushrooms have long been a meat replacement for vegetarians, but more people seem to be catching on to this meatless substitution as a tasty way to remove higher-calorie, higher-fat meats. One of my favorites is grilled eringi lightly seasoned with black pepper. Personally, I like the taste, but the texture can get a bit chewy. The eringi mushroom is big and meaty, absorbing other flavors well. Other great uses include mushroom risotto, mushroom omelet, and stir fried with eggplant and string beans. Any time you would typically use a portabella, try using eringi instead.
Enoki is very different from most mushrooms you have probably seen: long and thin strands, all connected in a bunch at the bottom, and more white than brown in color. I often find these served in soup. Sitting in the broth for so long can soften them up a little. You could also use them as a substitute for pasta. Since they come in long strands and hold up well in a sauce, these make a low calorie, nutritious alternative to pasta. I’ll confess, I have never tried them with an Italian tomato sauce, but I have tried them with Asian sauces and topped with lots of veggies, like eggplant, bok choy, broccoli and carrots.
Other ideas for using the many varieties of Japanese mushrooms include mushroom soup, layered in lasagna, stir fried with tofu and green veggies, added to miso soup, on top of soba noodles, or even raw in a salad. Whatever way you like to enjoy your mushrooms, these Japanese varieties—if you come across them—are sure to make your dish stand out.
Melinda Boyd, MPH, MHR, RD, is a registered dietitian and military spouse living in Japan. She is co-author of Train Your Brain to Get Thin, and blogs at NutrFoodTrvl.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter.