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Shiitake, Japanese forest mushrooms, are one of the Orient's most exotic and delicious foods. Shiitake's delicate, yet wild, woodsy taste adds a gourmet flair to almost any dish.

Shiitake should be enjoyed as part of a daily diet. Dr. Mori recommended four shiitake a day for the maintenance of health. However, when using shiitake as part of a therapeutic regimen, much larger doses are usually recommended.

The temperatures of cooking do not seem to destroy shiitake's healing qualities. In addition, cooking greatly enhances the mushroom's flavor. You can cook fresh shiitake in all the ways you are used to enjoying other mushrooms - in soups, stews, sauces, and gravies. Shiitake are a flavorful addition to fried rice, noodles, and stir-fried dishes. They are particularly delicious in tempura or when baked with a seasoning of shoyu, mirin, and fresh ginger. For a special treat, brush shiitake caps with olive oil and grill three to four minutes.

To clean fresh shiitake, simply wipe them with a damp cloth or soft brush. Fresh shiitake can also be rinsed under cold water and patted dry, but be careful not to soak them or they will become soggy.

Dried shiitake are readily available in Oriental markets and natural food stores and are becoming more popular in supermarkets. Though the texture of reconstituted dried shiitake is not as tender as that of the fresh mushrooms, shiitake's exquisite flavor is even more concentrated with drying. To reconstitute, submerge the dried shiitake in water for at least one or two hours, preferably overnight. After soaking, cut off and discard the tough stems and slice the caps. The soaking water makes a wonderfully rich stock for soups, stews, sauces, and gravies. Used with their soaking water and other ingredients, such as carrots and greens, shiitake are a superb addition to miso soup.

Regardless of the type of food you enjoy, shiitake will add rich flavor and vitality to your diet. Following are several of our family's favorite shiitake recipes.

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