A medley of mushrooms - shimeji, shitake, chanterelles, oysters,
enoki and maitake
There are some foods that take time, sometime years, for the palate to appreciate. That's how mushrooms have been for me. As a child, I hated them. I had this preconceived idea that mushrooms were more medicine than food, and found their appearance, flavor and smell utterly unappealing. My mother had a lot to do with it. She cultivated slimy medicinal mushrooms under the kitchen sink. I got goose pimples every time I saw her brew tea with them. My grandmother had smiliar interests in mushrooms. She often visited the Chinese herbs shop in town and I would tag along for the thrill. Dried mushrooms could be found next to the dusty bins of dried rattle snake skins, shark fins and ginseng roots. The medicine man would come up with a cure for whatever ailment my grandmother was complaining about that day. Mushrooms were high on his list of recommendations. How I eventually came to appreciate mushrooms was my encounter with matsutake mushroom in a delicate dobinmushi - soup that my mother made. The scent of matsutake was fragrant and lovely, and it was served in a clay pot like tea. I suddenly felt like a grown up when I had my first sip. Since matsutake is so expensive, all I got was a sliver but that was enough to enjoy its essence. Now, I enjoy mushrooms of all kinds for their scent, flavor, and medicinal properties. I discovered that many edilble mushrooms contain lots of minerals, fiber and protein - not bad for a fungus. My mother and grandmother weren't just practicing some follklore medicine after all. At the workshop, we made a mushroom nabe with tofu and salmon. It was a healthy combination of foods in one pot.
Alexandra smelling the fragrant Maitake
MUSHROOM NABE RECIPE
You can use a variety of edible mushrooms. I used both Japanese and western mushrooms. Besides mushrooms, you can mix other vegetables like napa cabbage, mizuna, or shungiku. If you like a totally vegetarian nabe, you can substitute the salmon tofu tsumire for plain tofu.
On the platter are shitake, shimeji, enoki, maitake, chanterelles
** For vegans, you can substitute Tofu Salmon Tsumire with medium firm tofu. Cut the tofu into 8 cubes. Do not over cook the tofu in the nabe. Just keep it in the dashi long enough to heat it, about five minutes.
Ian and Missy slicing the vegetables.
PREPARING THE INGREDIENTS FOR NABE:
Make the Dashi broth. Season 6 cups of the broth with sake, mirin, usukuchi soysauce. Reserve the remaining 2 cups of plain broth to replenish the hot pot.
Prep the Tofu Salmon Tsumire: Take the tofu out of the package, and drain water. Wrap drained tofu in a clean cloth to remove excess water. Let stand for 10 minutes.
Place the skinless, boneless salmon on a cutting board. Cut the salmon in small cubes, about ½ inch in size. Take a couple pinches of salt (around ¼ teaspoon or a little more) and sprinkle it all over the cubed salmon. Let stand for 10 minutes.
Mince the salted salmon cubes, using a knife. It’s should have some texture like a steak tartare.
In a medium size bowl, combine the tofu, minced salmon, sake, ginger, egg, negi, salt and pepper to taste. Use your hands to mix the ingredients. Crumble the tofu with your hand. Transfer the tsumire mixture to a clean bowl. Refrigerate. (Note: Don’t make this more than 1 hour ahead of time or it will get watery).
Clean the mushrooms. Separate the shimeji, maitake and enoki mushrooms, so they are easy to eat. The enoki mushrooms can be cut in half. Arrange everything on a platter. Keep each ingredient in separate piles.
Slice Negi or scallions crosswise, about 1/4 inch thick. Arrange negi on the mushroom platter.
Prepare the Garnishes.
Rebecca mincing the salmon by hand.
BUILDING THE NABE:
Set the table with chopsticks, spoons, and serving bowls for each person. Bring out the condiments and garnishes and set them on the table.
Bring the seasoned dashi, the plain dashi (in a little pitcher or cup) the mushrooms and the negi, and the bowl of tsumire to the table. Turn on the portable burner.
Pour the seasoned dashi in the Donabe, Hot pot, and heat the dashi over medium heat.
When the seasoned dashi starts to gently boil, turn heat to low, and add all the mushrooms except for the enoki. Close lid and cook the mushrooms in the simmering broth for 4-5 minutes.
Open the lid. With two spoons or clean wet hands, make tsumire balls, using about 1.5 tbls of the mixture, and drop the balls gently into the broth. Repeat until you have used up half or all of the mixture. Closed lid to continue cooking for a couple of minutes. (Note: If you plan to serve the nabe in two stages, reserve half for the second round.) Open the lid and taste the soup. If the soup tastes a little salty after you added the Tsumire, you can adjust the flavor by adding plain dashi. If the soup tastes bland, you can adjust it by adding a ½ teaspoon of soysauce or usukuchi soysauce. For a rounder, sweeter taste, sake and sweet sake can be added sparingly.
Add the enoki and the negi. Close the lid and continue cooking until the tsumire floats freely, about 3-5 minutes more. Serve one tsumire and the mushrooms with ½ cup of soup per serving to start with. Garnish with sliced yuzu.
Let everyone help themselves to the condiments and garnishes on the table.
Note: If you plan to do a second round, try to clear the first round of ingredients out of the nabe.
Have a bowl ready to scoop out the leftovers, which gets eaten or discarded. One of the things a host does during the nabe dinner is to encourage the guests to have more, so you have no left over’s. You don’t want to mix overcooked ingredients with the fresh ones. The left over broth can be used to make a porridge or used as a broth for noodles.
The mushrooms will shrink as they cook.
When the Tsumire floats freely, they are cooked and the