I remember with clarity my love affair with fresh shiitake mushrooms, how I wanted to eat them in everything, and the ensuing furor when my macrobiotic counselor found out that my next door neighbor and I were sauteeing them by the pan full and consuming them with gusto. At that time it was rare to find them fresh, but we had found a unique little grocer not far from us owned by an Asian man that also carried tons of organic groceries we needed for our new lifestyle. So each week we loaded up bags of the mushrooms, and enjoyed them...that is, until Mina found out.
Mina was our macrobiotic counselor, and the ultimate arbiter of balance...the art of yin and yang was key to being healthy, and we were gaining a basic understanding of what foods ascribed to either end of the spectrum, and which ones could be eaten fresh or should be modified. For instance, tomatoes are regarded as very yin and unbalanced. They grow quickly, above the ground, and are considered the devil's fruit. But take that same tomato, sun dry it, and you have something that hovers in between the two polar opposites of yin and yang.
Mina lost it when she found out about the shiitake mushrooms. "No, no, no, no, no!" she cried. "This is very bad, very yin. These mushrooms do not even grow in the ground...they are up in the trees!" According to Mina (and I am not overstating this), we might as well be smoking marijuana.
Although we did temper our use of the mushrooms thereafter, they are still a temptation that I yield to regularly. We now find them at our favorite Asian grocery, a huge market with rare radishes, burdock root and lotus root, all things we still eat. And I do love the way they look in a ladle full of soup. Their exquisite neutrality, both in color and flavor, still enchant and persuade me to stray from utter balance.
Get some dried to keep in your pantry, though. They are still good reconstituted, and I often grind them up in a spice grinder to add to sauces, broths, and to flavor risotto and grain dishes. I'll tell you all about 10 minute risotto another time...