Braised Shiitake Mushrooms with Thai Basil and Chiles

March 7, 2018



When I think of meals that lend themselves to the slow cooker, I almost always think of a huge hunk-o-meat, like a pot roast or a pork shoulder. Those proteins, tougher than a pirate’s boot, transform beautifully under the low and steady heat of the slow cooker. The hard sinews break down into something so tender after 8-10 hours that it almost verges on magical. Shred that meat, plop it on a bed of mashed potatoes or nestle it in a warm tortilla and your winter dinner dilemma is fixed.

Something you don’t usually think of braising in a slow cooker? Vegetables.

Because why freaking bother? The beauty of most vegetables is that they’re an easy and quick cook on the stovetop or in the oven. They don’t have any muscles to soothe into submission and many vegetables (zucchini and broccoli, I’m talking to you) break down into a sodden mess after the slow cooker treatment.

Well, I’ll tell you why. Not all vegetables are considered equal, and some of them do interesting and lovely things when cooked for hours in a warm bath. Root vegetables like potatoes, parsnips, turnips, daikon radish and winter squash do a-ok in the slow cooker. Carrots do well if you’re completely insane and don’t realize that cooked carrots are the devil’s instrument. The thing is, though, I don’t often get a hankering for turnips or radish. I certainly don’t want them as the centerpiece of a meal.

This is why I approached this recipe for braised shiitake mushrooms from Hugh Acheson’s latest cookbook, The Chef and the Slow Cooker, with more than a little skepticism. Since making the effort to go semi-vegetarian about four months ago, I’ve been relying heavily (very heavily) on mushrooms as a stand-in for meat. Mushrooms have an inherent “meaty” texture and heft to them that make them a natural substitute for beef or pork, but I’d never tried them in the slow cooker and I wasn’t really sure I should. As a rule, you need to use some kind of liquid when braising something in the slow cooker, and wouldn’t that make the mushrooms…spongy? Mushrooms suck up water like a thirsty man in the Sahara. This didn’t sound like a good idea to me.

Still. When it comes to cooking, especially of things vegetal, I trust Acheson. He knows his way around a vegetable. So if Hugh says that braising sturdy, hooded shiitakes in a bubbly broth of hearty miso and zippy ginger and tongue-tingling chiles is exactly the right kind of idea, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The hardest part about this recipe is getting your hands on decent shiitake mushrooms and red miso, tasks that proved a little pesky in suburban Colorado.  The local Kroger had no miso paste at all and the shiitakes were sad, wizened little specimens. Sprouts market had only white miso and maybe 4 mushrooms total in the bin. Third time was the charm–Whole Foods had terrific looking shiitakes (albeit at 7 bucks a pound) and red miso, so I was in business.

Sure, it stings a little to fork over 14 bucks for 2 pounds of mushrooms. It does. But I told myself that I regularly pay that much (if not more) for organic, grass fed beef and this is far better for the planet and they were, indeed, gorgeous looking little suckers. Plus, the rest of the meal was dirt cheap. How’s that for justification?

If you can’t find Thai bird chiles, you can substitute 1 seeded habanero or 4 seeded jalapeno chiles for the Thai chiles. Fresno chiles are just too mild in my opinion, but if that’s all you can find, use them and throw in some dried chile flakes or a squirt or two of Sriracha. You can modify and tinker around until you find the right amount of spice for you. If you can’t find red miso paste, don’t make this recipe. White miso just doesn’t cut it here. I speak from experience. You need the pronounced umami funk of the red miso to make this dish sing. If you can’t find Thai basil, regular basil is fine; you may need a little more of it, but that’s okay.

This makes a perfectly respectable supper served over a bed of jasmine or basmati rice. The leftovers are even better the next day, which is something I always appreciate. So go forth and find those shiitakes, friends! You’ll feel good about yourself in the morning.





Braised Shiitake Mushrooms with Thai Basil and Chiles

adapted slightly from Hugh Acheson

serves 4-6


2 tablespoons red miso paste

1/4 cup rice vinegar

3 shallots, sliced into thin rings

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

Kosher salt

2 pounds fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps left whole

3 Thai bird chiles, seeded and sliced into thin rings

2 small red bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced

1/4 cup torn fresh Thai basil leaves

Rice, for serving

Chopped peanuts, for serving (optional)


Preheat a slow cooker on the high setting for at least 15 minutes.

Pour 4 cups water into the slow cooker. Add the miso, vinegar, ginger, shallots and 1/2 teaspoon salt, whisking well to dissolve the miso. Then add the mushrooms and Thai chiles, cover with the lid, and cook on the high setting for 1 hour.

Add the bell peppers to the mushroom mixture, re-cover and cook for another hour.

To finish, add the basil, mix well, taste for salt and season accordingly.

Serve over rice topped with chopped peanuts, if using.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Annie March 7, 2018 at 11:12 am

I’ll have to give this a go when I can land some fresh shiitakes. I have this cookbook and am in love with the kale lentil soup. It is so good I’ve made it at least four times this fall/winter!


Dana Talusani March 7, 2018 at 11:44 am


Recipe for the soup, please? I totally can do kale in soup, so bring it!


elizabeth March 8, 2018 at 1:04 pm

A few weeks ago we wanted to make Ed Lee’s miso-smothered chicken that called for dark miso paste and after spending 20 fruitless minutes in the Teet looking for some and then picking up red miso soup as a backup at another store, Michael recalled that we had a package of red miso from ages ago that was still good! Long story goes: if you have it, don’t get rid of it because it stays good for eons.


Dana Talusani March 12, 2018 at 11:10 am


This is good to know, especially because I don’t make that many things with miso (I know, what’s wrong with me) but knowing it will last a long time in the fridge is reassuring!


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