Cooking for my husband can be a real challenge … well, I take that back. He is just what some people call a “meat and potatoes man.” His culinary tastes range from meat and potatoes to – more of the same. Not much sparkle (sigh!). As for me, on the other hand, if it is out there, I want to cook and taste it. I guess I’m the challenge, huh?
I love to experiment and try new and different foods and tastes. Recently I’ve been exploring Thai cooking, which has been both fun and good. And one night last week, (although it isn’t classified as “Thai”) I made a Ginger Sweet Potato soup for my dinner. Served with a Fennel and Arugula salad with Balsamic Vinegar dressing and a chunk of hot bread - it was delicious!
I have two recipes for you this week, neither one of which are Thai, but they are wonderful entrees – the Sweet Potato and Carrot soup and Jasmine Rice with Shrimp Salad. And with a bit of curry and ginger, they do have that oriental flair!
The salad recipe calls for Shiitake Mushrooms. Usually, I go to the store and grab the little round, creamy white, button mushrooms (only for my better half), but this time I bought Shiitakes. He never questioned them, however, I wasn’t able to hide the bean sprouts. He loves shrimp and cashews, so in general, it was a winner (He picked the sprouts out, silly man). I think you will enjoy it too. First, here are some interesting facts on Shiitakes.
The Shiitake (She-TAK-ee), 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 prices 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.
Shiitakes And Your Health
In Eastern cultures, the restorative power of Shiitake mushrooms is legendary. They are used to treat colds, flu, circulation, 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.
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.
When selecting fresh shiitakes, look for firm, plump mushrooms that are not slimy or bruised. Store unwashed-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; 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.
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
1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
salt to taste
Cook rice according to package directions, then cool. Heat oil in pan and sauté mushrooms until tender. Add garlic, carrots and peas, sauté 5 minutes longer, then mix into rice. Add the shrimp, bean sprouts, scallions and cashews. Serve warm or well chilled with dressing.
Combine all ingredients and serve.
Sweet Potato, Carrot and Ginger Soup
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup diced shallots
3 cups Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 1/2 cups peeled and cubed carrots
1 tablespoon grated ginger (small knob)
2 teaspoons curry powder
3 cups fat-free low sodium chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil in large saucepan; sauté shallots until tender. Add potatoes, carrots, and curry; cook about 2 minutes. Add broth; bring to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer 25-30 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
In food processor, process soup in batches until smooth. If soup is too thick, add a bit of heated broth. Serve with hot bread and salad.
Kay Bona is a staff writer for the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.