Recipes of the Unfortunate: Zen Shiitake Mushroom Rice

A region-specific speciality at Tongdosa temple, South Korea

Part of a series where individuals share their stories of misfortune and the recipes that got them through.

THE CHEF

Min Ji-Woo, Monk and Chef at Tongdosa Temple, South Korea

THE UNFORTUNATE STORY

When I was twenty-four, my wife left me for another man. He was a rich business owner. I was a mechanic at an auto-repair shop. I was in great pain and had trouble concentrating on my work. We had dated since the 10th grade. I suffered from great anxiety after this incident. Three months later, I decided to leave my life behind and become a monk. At the temple, I found that I enjoyed working with my hands. This is how I became a chef here. This dish is a specialty because the mushrooms come from a forest nearby. Pyogo (shiitake) mushrooms are unique because they grow on dead oak logs. They take the dead parts of the wood and turn them into new life. You can taste the old tree bark and all the elements of the forest in a single bite of pyogo. I can no longer remember her face.

Min Ji-Woo

THE RECIPE

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

For the rice:

•6-8 fresh pyogo (shiitake) mushrooms
•¾ cup gingko nuts
•1 cup sliced Korean radish (may replace with daikon although Korean radish has a stronger, sweeter flavor)
•3 cups of short grain sweet white rice
•6 cups water

For the sauce:

•5 tablespoons soy sauce
•1 tablespoon rice vinegar
•1-2 teaspoons honey
•2 teaspoons sesame oil
•2–3 tablespoons of Korean gochugaru (must be Korean dried red pepper flakes)
•1 teaspoon sesame seeds (roasted)
•1 tablespoon diced green pepper, cheongyang pepper, or jalapeno. (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Left: Ingredients over rice before cooking; Right: Mix sauce ingredients thoroughly
  1. Wash rice and let it submerge in water for 30 minutes in a rice cooker or pot. Do not cook yet. 2 parts water to 1 part dried rice.
  2. While the rice sits, gently roast gingko nuts in hot pan for 5–7 minutes so that they are slightly toasted.
  3. Julienne the radish the length of its diameter.
  4. Slice shiitake mushrooms vertically into ½ inch pieces.
  5. Lay radish slices over the uncooked rice so that it completely covers the surface.
  6. Spread shiitake mushroom slices over the radish evenly.
  7. Sprinkle toasted gingko over shiitake mushrooms.
  8. For rice cookers, cook until rice is done (15–20 minutes). For a pot, bring water to boil on a medium-high heat. Then, reduce heat to low and simmer until rice is done (25 minutes).
  9. After the rice is cooked, mix what is in the rice cooker or pot.
  10. Plate mixture in bowls to serve.
  11. Mix and stir all ingredients for the sauce in a bowl. The sauce can be added on top of the rice before serving or in a small side dish to allow each person to add to taste.

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