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VOL. 39 | NO. 12 | Friday, March 20, 2015

Some shiitakes facts you might not know

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Cooking for my husband is a challenge... Well, I take that back. My husband is just what people call a “meat and potatoes man.”

His culinary palette ranges from meat and potatoes to – meat and potatoes. Not a whole lot of sparkle. (Sigh...)

I, on the other hand, try to cook it. If it’s something I’ve never had before, then I want to give it a whirl. I guess I’m the challenge after all, huh?

Anyway, recently I’ve been exploring Thai cooking, which has been fun, good and healthy. The shrimp and rice recipe below is one I really enjoyed.

The recipe calls for shiitake mushrooms. Usually, I go to the store and grab the little round button mushrooms (only to keep it “simple” for my better half), but this time I bought shiitakes.

He never questioned them, just the bean sprouts. But he loves shrimp and cashews, so it’s a winner! (He picked the sprouts out!) I think you’ll enjoy it, too.

First, here’s some interesting facts on shiitakes.

Shiitakes and your health

The shiitake (She-TAH-kee), or “mushroom of the shii, or oak, tree” in Japanese, is highly prized in the Orient for its flavor and medicinal value. Native to Asia, they range from a tan to dark brown with broad, spongy, umbrella-shaped caps.

When cooked, they have a rich, woodsy taste with a meaty texture. They can be sautéed, broiled, baked, grilled, or used raw in salads.

There are no different varieties of shiitake mushrooms; however, there are various price ranges due to the size or plumpness of the cap and the growing method.

Thick, plump caps are meatier and more flavorful, and organic, log-grown mushrooms are more expensive than commercially produced sawdust types.

In Eastern cultures, the restorative power of shiitake mushrooms is legendary.

They are used to treat colds, flu, circulation problems, upset stomachs and exhaustion.

They are also a rare source for naturally occurring vitamin B12, and contain all the necessary amino acids needed in our diet.

In fact, they are higher in amino acids than peanuts, soybeans, corn, and kidney beans.

Jasmine Shrimp Salad

1 cup jasmine rice, uncooked
2 tablespoons peanut oil
4 ounces shitake mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
1/2 cup carrot, julienne
1/2 cup sugar snap peas, chopped
1/2 pound shrimp, cleaned, cooked and cooled
1/2 cup bean sprouts
1/4 cup scallions, diced
1/2 cup chopped cashews or dry-roasted peanuts

Cook rice according to package directions, and then allow to cool. Heat oil in medium wok or skillet, and sauté mushrooms until tender. Add the garlic, carrots and peas, sauté five minutes longer, and then mix into rice. Add the shrimp, bean sprouts, scallions, and cashews. Serve warm or well chilled with dressing.

Dressing

1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Salt to taste

Combine all ingredients and serve.

Although immune system support has often received much of the spotlight in shiitake mushroom research, recent study results involving support of the cardiovascular system have caught the attention of many researchers.

Recent studies have shown the ability of shiitake mushrooms to help protect us against cardiovascular diseases (including atherosclerosis) by preventing too much immune cell binding to the lining of our blood vessels. In order for immune cells and other materials to bind onto our blood vessel linings, certain protein molecules – called adhesion molecules – must be produced and sent into action. (Info from whfoods.org.)

Studies show these mushrooms also significantly lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, and because shiitakes contain interferon, are used to enhance and stimulate the immune system, with their extracts being used to treat cancer, HIV, and chronic fatigue.

A word of caution

Shiitake mushrooms contain naturally-occurring substances called purines. Purines are commonly found in plants, animals and humans. Excessive intake in individuals who are susceptible to purine-related problems can cause health problems.

Since purines can be broken down to form uric acid, excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to excess accumulation of uric acid. The health condition called gout and the formation of kidney stones from uric acid are two examples of uric acid-related problems that can be related to excessive intake of purine-containing foods.

For this reason, individuals with kidney problems or gout may want to limit or avoid intake of purine-containing foods such as shiitake mushrooms.

Preparation

When selecting fresh shiitake mushrooms, look for firm, plump mushrooms that are not slimy or bruised. Store unwashed and lightly wrapped in paper towels or in a paper bag, never in plastic in the refrigerator. Shiitakes can last up to 14 days.

Wipe with a damp paper towel or mushroom brush. If needed, swish very briefly in water and pat dry with paper towels.

Dried mushrooms can be stored indefinitely and reconstituted by soaking. The texture is different, the flavor intensified, and they don’t sauté well, but are perfect for soups, stews, gravies and baking.

Kay Bona is an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact her at kay@dailydata.com.

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