November 14th, 2008
I haven’t foraged maitake (ram’s head/sheep’s head/hen of the woods) (Grifola Frondosa) yet, but it would be a good find. The genus, Grifola, refers to the griffin a lion body/eagle headed creature, making this mushroom the king of the land and air. They are traditionally a symbol of God and guardian of treasures…quite a bit of pressure for a fungi. I don’t know if they grow in the Pacific Northwest, but I do know that I love these mushrooms. They are meaty and chewy but not too chewy. They hold up well in a lot of applications and are just plain cute. I like that they freeze really well from the raw state (no prep necessary), making my mushroom cravings easy to satisfy if I’m home and hungry. Maitake are native to the Northeast and Japan (and supermarkets worldwide), but you can grow your own in your backyard using “mushroom plugs.” Perhaps this is my next project, foraging in my pj’s.
Maitake grow in the same spot year after year, usually at the base of oak trees. Maitake is Japanese for “dancing mushroom,” referring to the forager’s excitement since a single cluster can grow up to 50 pounds or more. I can’t even visualize that because this mushroom is not dense like portabellas can be. One of the most exciting things that I’ve learned about this mushroom is that it’s an adaptogen, meaning that it balances out the body and increases the body’s resistance to anxiety, fatigue and stress. It sounds like magic but adaptogens are real and amazing. I took Ashwagandha the month before my wedding and I didn’t get overwhelmed with stress or anxiety. I did have trouble falling asleep, though I needed less sleep.
But I digress. Maitakes are yummy and I ate them recently in a wonton soup that rocked. I don’t have a set recipe for this, so bear with the chatty directions. I sauteed the maitake with a lot of garlic and a mixture of earth balance and olive oil. Once the mushrooms started to release their juices, I added some chopped kale and sauteed that until it wilted and most of the liquid evaporated. I kept it simple with soy sauce and black pepper for seasonings. Then I added some sauteed mystery mushrooms to the broth for more mushroomy goodness. I used VeganYumYum’s wonton soup broth because it’s easy and tastes great. I simmered the wontons for about 3 minutes in a separate pot of boiling salted water and then added them to the soup. Wonton wrappers can be deceptive since a lot of brands have eggs in the ingredients. Read your labels, folks! It was a satisfying lighter fall soup and I almost didn’t have any leftovers.