Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Seaweed Salad with Shiitake Mushrooms

On a hot summer evening, any salad is a welcome treat. A Japanese-style seaweed salad is particularly refreshing, with a calming balance of salt and acidity, no added fats, and cooling vegetables like seaweed and cucumber. An excellent source of iodine and trace minerals, seaweed has a pleasant chewy texture, and mildly briny taste.

This salad combines the slick silky texture of seaweed with cucumber's fresh crunch and the unique meaty bite of shiitake mushrooms, in a rich, brothy dressing.

Packages of mixed sea vegetables for salads.
To prepare it, I first soaked seven dried shiitakes and about an ounce of mixed seaweeds I bought at an Asian market in cool water for about twenty minutes. The seaweed swells to roughly fifteen times its dried volume as it absorbs the water, yielding an impressive amount from such a small package. Then I drained them well, collecting the soaking liquid in a small saucepan. I brought the liquid to a simmer over moderate heat to reduce the volume and concentrate the flavors. While it was cooking, I removed the stems from the mushrooms and then sliced the caps thinly, combining them with the seaweed in a bowl. I peeled a Japanese cucumber and cut it on a sharp diagonal into long, thin slices. Separately, I also sliced a couple of scallions.

Once the liquid had reduced to about a cup, I poured it into a small bowl and let it cool. I stirred in a little brown rice vinegar, mirin, and tamari, and poured it over the seaweed and sliced shiitakes. Then I added the cucumbers and tossed the salad lightly.

To serve, I mounded the salad on small plates, poured a generous amount of the dressing over it, and then scattered the sliced scallions on top. This is a succulent dish, making it a perfect light lunch in sweltering weather. In smaller portions, it's also a terrific appetizer to start off an elegant dinner.

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