Thursday, March 27, 2008

In search of Shitakes and other fun ingredients

I was so excited today to go to Chinatown and visit the Kowloon Market. It's not a place I can walk to, but it's the best place to buy shitake mushrooms and that's what I needed for the recipe for dinner tonight - a shitake brown rice pilaf. I love pilafs, and this recipe appealed to me because it used brown BASMATI rice and roasted pecans.

The Chinese grocery stores are a true experience. The aisle signs were all in Chinese, so I had to wander up and down each of the crammed and narrow aisles to find what I was looking for. Some products I recognized (tofu, wonton wraps, noodles). Some I didn't (bugogi). Some I would be reticent to try, even in my most experimental moods (chicken feet, sea cucumber). At the back of the store, whole fresh (I hope) fish packed on ice, presented in blue recycling bins. Even if I had brought my camera with me, which I forgot, I would have felt very self-conscious about snapping pictures. However, it was a highly sensory experience - smells, colors, textures...

I picked up two bags of dried shitake mushrooms (because let's face it, with a three year old and one year old, who knows when I'll be able to get there again), along with some edamame. I also tried to find some items that our family might eat, that wouldn't be found in the "regular" grocery stores.

Part of the reason I did this is because I was inspired by another foodie project to spend $20 at Whole Foods on things that look "interesting, gross or exciting". I wish we had a Whole Foods here, but I know there are plenty of great places to find the same type of things.

So how did the Shitake Brown Rice Pilaf turn out? *sigh* not great. After my successful invention with leftovers, following this rebar recipe didn't yield the success I hoped for. I think the biggest problems were:

1) the amount of liquid (2 cups of hot water reserved from the soaking of the mushrooms) was not enough, or else something happened and it boiled away too quickly. The result was that the rice had that partially-cooked, crunchy texture. I hate that texture. Next time I think I might cook the rice and mushrooms separately from the onions to see if that makes a difference.

2) I used regular fresh mushrooms instead of the additional fresh shitakes it called for. I have only so many stops I can make in the ingredient search when I tote my toddlers, so sometimes I have to substitute for what I have. In this case, I think it took away from the overall dish.

3) One of the leeks I used was quite large, and I wonder if maybe that set the taste balance over to far in the direction of onion, instead of nutty pilaf or mushroom.

So, instead of a photo of the dish I made, I've posted a photo of the fun stuff I bought. Maybe I'll invent a dessert using what I bought instead ;-).

If you want to try the recipe, here it is:

Shitake Brown Rice Pilaf
(from rebar modern food cookbook)

Serves 4 (yes it does)

1 oz dried shitake mushrooms
2 cups boiling water
2 leeks, mostly white and green parts
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz fresh shitake mushrooms
2 tbsp vegetable oil
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup brown basmati rice
1/2 cup pecans, roasted and roughly chopped
4 scallions, minced for garnish

1. Soak the dried mushroms in hot water for at least 30 mins. Strain and reserve the cooking liquid. Finely mince the mushrooms and set aside.

2. Quarter the leek whites lengthwise and chop into 1/2" dice. Place in a colander and run cold water over them to rinse of excess grit. Stem the fresh shitake mushrooms and slice thinly.

3. In a medium sized pot, heat the oil and saute the leeks, garlic and minced soaked shitakes with 1/2 tsp salt until the leeks are soft. Add rice and continue to saute to toast the rice grains. Add 2 cups of the reserved mushroom-soaking liquid, the remaining salt, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to very low and let the rice steam for 45 minutes. Turn off the head and let the rice sit for an additional 10 minutes. Don't peek!

4. Before serving, heat another tablespoon of oil in the skillet and sear the sliced shitakes until golden (the fresh ones). Deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine or balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste. Turn the cooked rice to a serving dish and gently stir in the sauteed mushrooms and roasted pecans. Garnish with scallions and serve hot.

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