September 27, 2010

Black worm incident | Huckleberries | Lentil stew

We had kind of an icky food experience this weekend involving a food that's a staple at our house — dried shiitake mushrooms. My husband made a hot pot with lots of vegetables, shiitakes, and dashi made from soaking the dried mushrooms. As I was eating mine, I fished out a unidentified black thing and asked my husband (now referred to as NG for "needs glasses") what he thought it was. He thought it was a piece of mushroom. I didn't think so but started eating again, when another black thing appeared.

I took a closer look and saw teeny tiny legs at the front end. Gag. Then I noticed that some of the mushrooms looked like Swiss cheese, as in full of holes. And some of the holes had black dots. I squeezed such a mushroom, and another little black worm came out. I went to the pot and found lots more mushrooms with black dots. NG is a fast eater and had already finished his soup; he looked kind of sorry. I found the black worm incident disturbing and got rid of the rest of the package of mushrooms. Now I'm sorry I didn't soak them to see if the worms were alive in the dried mushrooms, or already dead, having been dried with the shiitakes before packaging.

The dried shiitakes looked perfectly normal. Neither the tops or the gills showed any sign of insect invasion; it was only after they were soaked that the holes and worms appeared. Has this ever happened to you? Does anyone know anything about this? I was just about to start cooking recipes from a newly acquired Japanese cookbook, and now my heart's not really in it. I'm not sure I can bring myself to use dried mushrooms! When I tried to find information about this online, I actually found a Web store selling mushrooms with or without worms! Can someone please explain this to me?

Miss E spent the weekend with us (her photo appears at the top of the post instead of the worms — she's so much cuter) and we made fruit salad together. It's been a long time since I've worked with 2-1/2-year-olds, and I misjudged the brilliant Miss E's knife skills. She was asked to cut a banana with a butter knife, and instead of using the knife, she smooshed up the pieces with her fingers. "That looks really appetizing," commented my son sarcastically as he walked into the kitchen. The rest of her job was to put the fruit that she and I cut into the serving dish, but she wished to take a bite out of each piece before putting it into the bowl. I convinced her to just eat the whole piece if she wanted some.

Notice the little blue berries in the bowl? (This is not the bowl with the mushed bananas!) They are huckleberries, and I read about them on Carbzilla's entertaining blog. She told me where to get some (at the farmers market) and we tried our first huckleberries. They look like tiny blueberries but have a much more intense flavor — delicious! Miss E loved them, especially in the huckleberry pancakes she had for breakfast.

I made a lentil stew for dinner with carrots, potatoes, corn and spinach. It was rich with smoked Spanish paprika, tomato paste, turmeric and other spices. (It also had dulse, but don't tell NG.) I topped it with fresh tomatoes and avocado, and served it over brown basmati rice. The end of summer tomatoes added a bright highlight to the delicious fall flavors of this warming stew.

Approximate directions for lentil stew
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 " chunks
  • 3 potatoes, cubed
  • 1 cup green lentils, washed
  • 2 medium onions, cubed
  • 2 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 6 cups water
  • 1/2 cup chopped frozen spinach (or 1 bunch fresh)
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1/2 cup packed chopped parsley
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fruity vinegar (or lemon juice)
  • a few pieces dried dulse (not flakes) as desired
  • avocado and fresh tomato for topping
  1. Put the carrots, potatoes, lentils, onions, paprika, turmeric, garlic and tomato paste and water into a large pot. Bring to a boil, turn heat to simmer, cover and cook until vegetables are tender (about 30 to 45 minutes). 
  2. Add spinach, corn, parsley, and vinegar. Break apart the dulse pieces and add. Simmer a minute or two until the veggies are cooked. 
  3. Taste for seasonings, and add salt and pepper as needed. 
  4. Place into bowls with rice, and top with avocado and chopped tomatoes.


  1. Ew, I am so sorry Andrea. That sounds like a horrible experience.

    I've never seen huckleberries before. I don't think they are available here.

  2. Why would anyone choose to buy mushrooms with worms? That is so strange to me.

    I love your cooking adventures with Miss E :) I guess kids will just do whatever ... cut the banana, squish the banana ... it's all the same, right?

  3. So glad you got the huckleberries! It thrills me when people get to try a new healthy food!

    Worms - egads! I've never heard of it but I have a love/hate with dried mushrooms in general. I want to love alllll mushrooms but I find I get a skeevy feeling with almost anything besides white or Portabello. Oyster and shitake mushrooms are ok if they're sliced really thin. I think I don't like the chewy texture.

  4. Wow how weird is that? Worms or no worms? Sorry I've never heard of that before. It would have definitely turned my stomache.

    I've heard huckleberries are really good.

  5. Mihl,
    It was nasty, but these things happen, right? I just wish my husband would wear his glasses when he cooks so he can see what's happening! Huckleberries are wild, and only grow in certain locations. This was my first taste.

    That's my question, too, and I hope someone can provide us with an answer, but perhaps I'll have to pose that question on a non-vegan blog.

    Miss E is a very "hands-on" kind of cook. :D

    I'm glad I got to try the huckleberries, too — they were really good.

    Texture has a lot of influence on how people feel about food. I can't stand the texture of nuts in baked goods, for instance, but I do love the texture of mushrooms in savory dishes. But worms? No thanks.

  6. Dreaminitvegan,
    I wonder if the mushrooms cost more with worms ... or without.

  7. Wow, gag is right! How'd the hubby do with a belly full of shitake worms? Perhaps he liked them & will be ordering the "with worms" on purpose in the future? We all need the reminder every once in a while to check our fruits & veggies closely. (eew)

  8. oh goodness, worms in shiitakes, that's horrible. i just bought some dried shiitakes the other day and already ate some, but i sliced them up before cooking so i'm pretty sure i would have noticed worms beforehand. still, i'm going to have to inspect them more closely next time. what brand were the ones you had?

    aren't huckleberries the best? they're a huge thing here in idaho--in fact i'm doing a story about the whole fascinating huckleberry phenomenon for next summer's issue of mccall magazine. i just finished up the last of what i picked this summer in some amazing huckleberry muffins that i need to post a recipe for because they were out of control delicious.

  9. Sorry to hear about the unappetizing worm adventure! I haven't had huckleberries, but I'm sure they're available here. Maybe this Saturday at the Farmer's Market! Have a nice afternoon, Andrea, sans worms:)

  10. Oh no--I am so sorry about the worms! I can understand not be excited about using mushrooms now...quite honestly, I am pretty freaked out by your experience too. I think I may avoid mushrooms for a while myself. *Shudder* I love mushrooms, but that is just really strange. I have never heard of such a thing--I am sorry I can't be of more help!

    On a brighter note, your lentil stew looks amazing! I love lentil stew, and yours looks so hearty and filling and delicious. Did you use red or brown lentils?


  11. Abby,
    NG seemed quite subdued about it. I'm sure he was even more unhappy than I was, considering his bowl was empty.

    I don't want to alarm you but our mushrooms were sliced up. I'm sure you are more observant than my husband and would notice worms in your food. I did.But still...

    Aren't huckleberries the state fruit of Idaho? Although I won't have any huckleberries at my disposal, I hope to see you recipe!

    You might have one more weekend (according to Carbzilla) to pick up some berries. I hope you find some.

    I'm actually soaking mushrooms as I write this, but rest assured, I was completely neurotic about every speck I encountered! NEUROTIC.

    I posted the recipe for the stew — or what I think is the recipe. I used green lentils. The fresh vegetables and lentil quantities are correct but the other stuff may be off, but close.

  12. Just happened over here from a comment you left in Carbzilla's blog, and what a horror-filled welcome! I've been a mushroom-hater all of my life but have been trying to be more of a grown-up lately with great success, if I do say so myself. And now this! Eek!

  13. I can rally empathize with your work experience because something similar happened to me with button mushrooms. I was sauteing some in a pan and worms started coming out of them. I have an obsessive, phobic fear of worms, and it definitely put me off of mushrooms!

  14. Thanks for posting the lentil stew recipe--I can't wait to try it :-) Was it posted when I asked the question about the lentils?! Did I completely miss it? I am sorry! If you posted it after I asked, then thank you so much. But if it was always there and I missed it, I will blame it on your wormy bug encounter and being distracted by that, lol. Or, you could just call me NG like your hubby and say I am clearly very unobservant... :-)


  15. Katie,
    I am so sorry your first visit here was so creepy — honestly, it's not usually this bad. If it were, I'd probably have to stop eating, and that hasn't happened yet. My advice (though I realize you didn't ask for any) is maybe stick to fresh button mushrooms from the supermarket for a while, until you forget about what you read here.:D Anyway, I read your comment tonight at the library while I was waiting for a book talk to start, and I guffawed out loud. Real loud. Thanks for visiting.

    Please tell me you're joking.

    It wasn't posted. I usually don't like to post recipes unless I've carefully measured out all the ingredients, but there's room for variation in a stew recipe so I've titled it "approximate recipe" and hope I've got everything close to right. (The spinach, corn, tomato paste and vinegar quantities were not carefully measured.) Thanks for inspiring me to post it — I was just being lazy by leaving it out.

  16. Oooh, how totally awful! For once I'm glad I'm not allowed dried foods right now! I think I'd be just as upset as you were. Reminds me of a time when my roomie and I (undergrads) were eating granola straight from the box and found. . . HALF a worm!! (subsequent intense efforts to vomit were unsuccessful.) On the other hand, E is adorable and your fruit salad looks great--as does the lentil stew! How is NG holding up post-worm ingestion (or did you tell him)? ;)

  17. Oh my god. I'm offline for a few days and this is what I come back to! What a dreadful experience. I cook with dried mushrooms *all the time* (swoons with horror). Well,I guess why shouldn't there be worms in shiitakes once in a while (or fresh mushrooms, gah)? But still. I've had batches of dried beans with critters (alive and dead), but the critters always float out right away when you put them in water so you know.

    On the other hand, your lentil stew looks fab and I was kind of craving something like that tonight.

  18. Ricki,
    Your diet is sounding more appealing all the time. Your granola story fits right in here, doesn't it? I'm sure there are a lot of people with gross stories — I have a couple more I could share — but it might be too soon after grossing everyone out with this one. :|

    Of course NG knows about the worms, and he's still, I think, disturbed. I was upset that he refused to wear his glasses when he cooks though he clearly needs to. He says he'll wear them from now on.

    Just double check the mushrooms from now on; I know I will. I don't want there to be worms hiding in shiitakes, and I'm still confused as to why one would order them "with worms." Eew.

    The lentil stew was so good. I think I could alternate between hotpots and lentil stew and be happy.

  19. Sorry to hear about the shitakes! That HAS happened to us, but with the ones we have grown. I've actually never bought any from the store. I saw lots for sale in HK, not necessarily shitakes but fuller, rounder ones, and now that I see them here at the shops I feel like trying them... or not....

    That kid gets cuter every day!

  20. Unfortunately, Andrea, I am not joking.

  21. Sorry to hear about the worm incident! I'm quite (positively!) amazed that you're already using dried mushrooms after it - hopefully you never experience something like this again. Maybe the "mushrooms with worms" are part of some special Asian cuisine? I'm wondering, as some types of worms, grasshoppers, and other "peculiar" (to us) things are gourmet food in certain countries.

    I have never tasted huckleberries, either (and actually I only knew the name from Tom Sawyer ;)). They look really similar to bilberries (which are very common in North Europe), so they're probably related - but do you know if they taste the same, too?

  22. Sorry to hear about the worms. I've been eating dried Chinese mushrooms my entire life and haven't ever come across worms in them. I've seen lots and lots of bugs come out of some produce from the farmers market. If there's too many to wash away, I just throw it out. I definitely examine all of my food before cooking and eating. I'm just glad you posted a cute picture instead of the worms. :-)

  23. Claire,
    I want to know more about the worms in your home-grown shiitakes. You never mentioned them before. We buy them all the time so maybe this was an aberration. You should try some and compare.

    Ugh. I don't even want to think about it. Buttom mushrooms seem so solid and ... safe.

    Bugs can show up anywhere. I'm just going to be more careful.

    From what I could find out, bilberries probably look and taste a lot like huckleberries. They are from the same species.

    Chow vegan,
    These were my first shiitake worms, and I hope the last. I know what you mean by "too many to wash away." I've had that happen, too, and sometimes it's just impossible to get rid of bugs (or the belief that I'm eating them!)

  24. Yuck! That is so strange! I can't believe there's a web store that lets you choose if you want your mushrooms with or without worms! I'll take mine without, thank you.

    Thank you for sharing a picture of Miss E instead of one of the worms! :D

    I bought a little jar of huckleberry jam in Montana last year (or was it two years ago?) and I really hated it. I'm thinking it was just a bad batch or maybe it was getting old because how could berries not be good?

  25. Ug, the worm thing would put me over the edge, I think. We bought broccoli once that had little bugs in it that weren't revealed until steaming= puke.

    I love the stew, we made lentil stew earlier this week. I'll have to bust out the paprika next time. Yum!

  26. River,
    Yuck is right. Who knew dried mushrooms would have worms. Bleh. Miss E trumps worms any day.

    Too bad about the jam. Maybe it contained a particularly sour variety of huckleberry; they can be quite tart, apparently.

    It is kind of off-putting to have broccoli worms fall onto your plate. But I have a worse broccoli story that I'll spare you from ... for now.

    Lentil stew is one of my favorite meals and I'm sure I'll be eating it a lot this winter. I love how fast the lentils cook, so I can make it at the last minute.

  27. disgusting. never happened to me before. I guess you were just "lucky". poor ken. I feel so bad for him.

  28. Bethany,
    Disgusting is about right. But I'm not counting on luck in the future — I'm going to give the mushrooms the evil eye and scare any hiding worms out where I can see them. Gah. Ken just needs to wear his glasses and pay attention.


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