Umami Yummy & Vegan Pho Recipe
The large metal gate creaks open and we are immediately enveloped in the decaying aroma of a lush forest. This is the home of True Shiitake, an unusual mushroom producer located in a former composting facility in the middle of protected woodlands. We are here to meet the shiitake mushroom, the steak of the future.
Each week the facility produces tens of kilograms of shiitake, mushrooms with a high content of protein, vitamins B and D, and dietary fibre, including the soluble fibre beta-glucan, which strengthens the immune system. Shiitake mushrooms first appeared in historical records of the Chan Dynasty in China some two thousand years ago. From China the mushroom spread to Taiwan and Japan, where the name shiitake, meaning ‘mushroom growing on oak’, originates. The mushroom has a pronounced flavour known as umami, the so-called fifth flavour – next to sweet, salty, bitter and sour – that humans first encounter in their mother’s breast milk. In Japanese the term umami means something very delicious. The basis of the taste is glutamic acid, which occurs naturally in shiitake mushrooms, but also in seaweed, Parmesan cheese, ripe tomatoes and aged meat.
Shiitake mushrooms grow naturally in warm and damp areas of China and Japan, where their commercial cultivation began in the 1970s. While the world’s large producers – China, Japan and Taiwan – have become expert in the cultivation process, in Czechia this area of agriculture is still in a trial and error phase. Dalibor from True Shiitake cut his teeth on shiitake growing during his stay in the USA. As one of two founders of the only company of its kind in Central Europe, he unveiled for us the mystery of growing shiitake mushrooms sustainably.
Springtime is the time for drilling. The wood is cut into uniform lengths and each log is drilled with some 40 holes, which are then filled with prepared mycelium (mushroom spawn). The inoculated logs then rest for about a year while the mycelium happily colonises the wood and matures in the process. Two of the mushroom strains used by True Shiitake come from the USA and one from Japan – all three were selected for their suitability to the local climate. Once the logs are fully colonised by mushroom spawn, they are repeatedly soaked in a water bath. After three to five days the first mushroom germs begin to appear, and in another week one can start harvesting with a basket in hand. Oak logs will yield mushrooms in two-week cycles for a period of three years. Four years after inoculation the log is fully spent and it is then sold for fuelwood. The entire cultivation process happens without any kind of fertiliser – as a wood-decay fungus, shiitake takes all its nutrients from the tree log – or pesticide, making its ecological footprint very minimal. Currently True Shiitake is focussing on full energy self-sufficiency, including plans for utilising one hundred per cent of the rainwater they collect and reusing waste materials. And what’s the best way to prepare shiitake? According to True Shiitake experts, they are best prepared as a steak and fried in butter. Bon appetite!
Vegan pho with shitake mushrooms
What you need:
1 Tbsp coconut oil
1 large onion
4 cloves of garlic
2 cm piece of ginger
6 whole cloves
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 litre vegetable stock
3 Tbsp nutritional yeast
3 Tbsp soy sauce
few spring onions (leave some for garnish)
handful of fresh coriander/cilantro (leave some for garnish)
handful of shitake mushrooms
1 package of glass noodles
1 carrot, cut into julienne noodles
chilli peppers to taste
Cut the onion into half moon slices and peel the garlic cloves and ginger. Fry the sliced onion, whole garlic cloves and half of the ginger (as a whole piece) in coconut oil together with the cloves and cinnamon for about 5 minutes. Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes. Next add the nutritional yeast, soy sauce, the remaining ginger, and chopped spring onions and coriander, and simmer gently for an hour. Strain the finished soup stock, or if you wish to use it unstrained, remove the cloves and keep the rest.
Brush the shitake mushrooms with coconut oil and fry on high heat. Once fried, salt the mushrooms and slice them into smaller pieces as necessary. Cook the glass noodles according to instructions, rinse them under cold water and place in a bowl. Pour the hot soup stock over the noodles, add slices of mushrooms and the julienned carrot, and finish with the remaining coriander, spring onions and chilli peppers to taste. For a final touch add a bit of fresh lime juice.
TIP: Shitake mushrooms can be substituted or complemented with oyster mushrooms, crunchy sprouts, or fried tofu or tempeh.
You can order True Shiitake mushrooms in advance and pick them up at their farm in Káraný. For more information visit www.true-shiitake.cz.
text: Hana Janišová | photo & recipe: Barbora Bydžovská