The Mightly, Savory Mushroom
Fall is easing its way into North Carolina. The days are pleasantly warm, taking on a more golden hue, with plants just beginning to show signs of change. All of this has me thinking more about the savory dishes we enjoy in the cooler months, and the mighty, savory mushroom is one ingredient that comes to mind.
Historically used for medicinal purposes in Eastern medicine, mushrooms provide us with many beneficial nutrients that help fight cancer, boost immune and brain function, support heart health, enhance energy, and support bone health.
There are over 10,000 different varieties out in the world, with about 2,000 of those being edible. In American grocery stores, we have access to only a fraction of those, with farmers’ markets oftentimes offering lesser-known varieties. The United States, China, and many European countries are the top producers of mushrooms worldwide.
WHY I LIKE THEM
- Mushrooms provide “umami”, or a pleasant savory flavor to dishes whether used fresh or cooked.
- Adding mushrooms to a recipe is a wonderful way to reduce the need for added salt.
- Mushrooms contain many vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and protein. They are the only produce items to contain vitamin D through either sunlight exposure or UV light (amount varies by variety).
SELECT and STORE
It is best to choose mushrooms from a reputable source, such as a grocer or trusted farmer, as not all varieties are edible. Avoid picking and eating wild mushrooms unless under the guidance of an expert. Select fresh mushrooms that look dry, feel firm, have an even texture, and are not bruised. Discard any that feel slimy or look withered.
Fresh mushrooms keep best in the refrigerator stored loosely in an open paper bag or cloth vegetable bag to help stave off spoilage. They have a short shelf life so it’s best to use them within one week. Hold off washing them until ready to use.
Fresh mushrooms do not freeze well, but dried varieties are a great pantry option.
For information on common mushroom varieties, check out Versatility in Varieties from the Mushroom Council.
When ready to use, clean fresh mushrooms gently by either running them quickly under cool water then pat them dry, or use a damp cloth to wipe any dirt from their surface.
Dried mushrooms require rehydration in hot water before use. The leftover mushroom water can be used in soups or stews to add more depth of flavor.
Once clean, or rehydrated, mushrooms are ready to be used. Mushrooms provide a “meaty”, earthy flavor, and chewy texture to dishes. They can be diced, sliced, chopped, minced, or left whole depending on the recipe.
- Stuff mushroom caps with whole grains, meat, seafood, vegetables, and/or cheese to make an entrée, side dish or appetizer.
- Add sliced or diced mushrooms to salads, vegetable medleys, stir-fries, pasta, whole grains, sauces, soup, stew, chili, eggs, sandwiches, or baked goods.
- Use mushrooms in any format as a meat substitute in sauces, casseroles, wraps or sandwiches, and salads.
- Use minced or chopped mushrooms as a supplement and flavor booster to ground meats, such as in burgers, chili, tacos, and pasta sauces.
The Mushroom Council recommends using the following ratios when combining finely chopped mushrooms with ground meat for the best flavor profile.
- 25/75 mushroom-meat blend for burgers, meatballs, and meatloaf
- 50/50 mushroom-meat blend for tacos, burritos, sloppy joes
- 70/30 mushroom-meat blend for chili, other one-pot meals, and sauces
- Sauteing, grilling, or roasting quickly over high to medium-high heat, or simmering in soups or stews over low heat are the ideal methods for cooking mushrooms in order to preserve the most nutrients. Boiling is not recommended as many of the nutrients are leached into the water and lost when discarded.
Have a favorite mushroom dish? Share it in the comments section.
Main photo by Alexandr Dzyuba on Unsplash