Maybe you have some dried mushrooms hiding somewhere in your pantry? Well, dust them off because we’re going to share with you some secrets to make the most of these little fungi. Dried mushrooms, which are very common in Asian cooking, don’t often make an appearance in food here in the US. But they should! Not only are mushrooms a great source of trace minerals, they offer the ‘fifth flavor-‘ umami. This is usually considered the rich or savory flavoring associated with roasted foods, nutritional yeast, seaweeds, soy sauce, and balsamic vinegar. The umami flavor is from the glutamates, natural proteins found in many foods (MSG is the synthetic version); check out this post for more information about umami. I like to think of dried mushrooms as a secret ‘gourmet’ ingredient in soups and sauces.
Dried shiitakes are the most common, but you can also find porcini, morel, and chantarelles (and many more if you shop at an Asian market!). The main trick to using dried mushrooms is that they must be soaked first. This will make them expand in size and enhance their flavor. The soak water can then be used in your current recipe, or you can save for a broth or sauce. When using soaked mushrooms, it’s best to chop them finely, as they have a rubbery texture that might not be palatable to everyone. Once chopped like this, they can be used anywhere fresh mushrooms might be used- like this Smokey Mushroom Tofu or this Risotto-Stuffed Mushrooms.
The two recipes that follow are easy and really base their flavor on the richness of the shiitakes- but you could substitute any type of mushroom you have for a milder flavor. Shiitakes are very strongly flavored, so start with just a few and add more if you like.
Homemade Mushroom Broth
You can use this earthy broth for homemade seitan or for cooking grains: it adds a great depth of flavor to risottos, sauces, and cooked grains.
10 cups water
5 dried shitake mushrooms
½ cup roughly chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon each dried thyme, sage, basil, sea salt
½ teaspoon each pepper and rosemary
2 Tablespoons red miso mixed with ¼ cup water
- In a large stockpot, heat water until boiling. Add mushrooms and boil rapidly for a few minutes.
- Reduce heat to low and add remaining ingredients. Cover and let simmer for one hour.
- Strain out the whole mushrooms and let cool before using. Store in refrigerator for about a week, or keep longer freezer.
Yield: 10 cups broth
Mushroom Ginger Soup
8 cups filtered water or broth
½ cup pearl barley
2-3 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in 1 cup water
4-inch piece fresh ginger
¼ cup red miso
½ cup quinoa
½ cup very thinly sliced onion
½ cup thinly sliced carrots
1 cup very thinly sliced bok choi
½ cup minced fresh greens or parsley
- Bring water to a boil in a large stockpot. Add barley, soaked mushrooms (reserve soak water), ginger, and turmeric. Simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes, or until barley is soft.
- Mix mushroom soak water with miso in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Add in quinoa, onions, carrots, and bok choi. Simmer 10 more minutes, and then add miso mixture into broth. Add more water if you like. Simmer for five minutes more. Divide soup between serving bowls and garnish with greens. Enjoy!
Yield: 8 cups soup, or 6-8 servings