Ode to the Mushroom
When I was growing up I loved playing the "this or that" game. Someone gave you two options and you had to pick one or the other. "Chocolate or vanilla ice cream?", "spending the day at the beach or in the mountains". Since I'm a very indecisive person, this game was like the ultimate training for me, and I would constantly grill my mom with options she had to pick from. Because of this, I'm constantly drawn to articles titled the top five ways to prepare mac and cheese, or the parts of interviews in which the people I admire say what their favorite animal, fruit, curse word and quote are. I love picking favorites, yet it's so incredibly hard for me! There's one exception though, when it comes to picking a favorite vegetable (that isn't corn on the cob because I mean... NOTHING is better than sweet corn on the cob), I have a quick and easy answer: mushrooms.
We love mushrooms so much that whenever I want to make something Carlos doesn't particularly like, I just douse it with mushrooms. Mushrooms on top of cauliflower, mushrooms on top of a simple green salad, mushrooms on top of vegetable soup. We used to love mushrooms as meat eaters, but when we went vegan, our love of mushrooms grew exponentially. Why? Because mushrooms are the ultimate vegan meat! Sure, I love my beefless tips as much as the next person, but give me some portobellos or shiitakes and I'm all set. They're incredibly satisfying and filling, they have a meaty texture, they hold on to marinades incredibly well and they can be grilled, smoked, sautéed, stir-fried, deep-fried, roasted, broiled, steamed... oh lordy!
You can make garlic mushrooms, mushroom tempura, mushroom tofu scramble, mushroom soup, mushroom quiche, mushroom frittata, mushroom skewers, pulled BBQ mushrooms, grilled mushrooms, teriyaki mushrooms, coconut mushrooms, crispy mushrooms, mushroom risotto. Call me Bubba mushroom, the options are endless! Today we're paying tribute to this incredible veggie (which isn't technically a vegetable), and teaching you all about its nutritional benefits, some basics as to how to cook them properly, some quick preparations and more!
Wait... Mushrooms are what?!
Spoiler alert! Mushrooms, although classified as vegetables when it comes to food, aren't even technically plants! Don't worry, they aren't animals either, they are actually part of the fungi kingdom (insert record scratching noise right about now). Yup! They are this whole separate thing which is just evidence of their coolness if you ask me!
There are many varieties of mushrooms, and of course, since our topic is food, we'll only be talking about the edible varieties of mushrooms. As you know, and a fact that Carlos always begs me to remind people, many varieties of mushrooms are unsuitable for human consumption, which is why the picking of wild mushrooms should only be reserved for very qualified connoisseurs. Aka, get your mushrooms at the store, since eating inedible mushrooms can be very dangerous and even life threatening.
There are so many types of edible mushrooms, from the unbelievable porcini or Boletus, to trumpettes, chanterelles, portobellos or cremini (baby portobellos), to white button mushrooms, shiitakes, maitakes, truffles, matsutakes, the awesome oyster mushroom, morels, enokis. Is your mouth watering yet? Wait until you hear what they can do for your body, not to mention your taste buds.
Mushrooms are king, nutritionally speaking
As with their adoptive siblings (aka vegetables), mushrooms are high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, which means they can aid in cancer prevention and appear to decrease the risk of diabetes and heart disease. They are anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and provide very high levels of antioxidants in spite of the fact that we associate the presence of antioxidants with brightly colored foods (take that blueberry!). They also happen to be sources of Selenium, a nutrient that isn't found in many fruits or vegetables (Brazil nuts are another great source for vegans), and that aids liver enzyme function, decreases tumor growth rates, prevents inflammation and more. Mushrooms are also high in potassium and low in sodium, which together can help lower blood pressure. They also contain vitamin C, beta-glucans (which can help lower cholesterol, boost immunity and have been recently shown to help improve insulin resistance). They are rich in B vitamins which not only help your hair and nails grow strong, but they help form red blood cells. Mushrooms contain choline which aids in sleep, memory and muscle movement, as well as copper, iron, phosphorus and the very ellusive for vegans vitamnin D! Surprise surprise, they also contain protein.
A specific type of mushroom called reishi, mostly sold in powdered form or supplements, is a powerful adaptogen (compounds that help the body deal with the biological effects of stress). Meaning, reishi can help reduce stress-levels and levels of cortisol in the body, they help your mood and sleep cycles, lower anxiety, as well as aid in conditions associated with insulin resistance like PCOS.
Yup! All good stuff!
Cooking mushrooms: Some tricks of the trade
Cooking mushrooms is fairly easy and the good news is they almost always turn out delicious no matter what you do to them (I blame their texture for this little magician act). However, there are some tips that will help you ensure success every time you cook them:
Most chefs will tell you not to wash mushrooms like you would other vegetables and insist on cleaning them one by one with a clean, damp, cloth. If you're anything like me though, very impatient and you don't have a mushroom butler standing in the corner of the kitchen at all times, what I suggest is you wash them but then dry them well. What we want to prevent is for the mushrooms to become water logged. We want them really dry before we add them to a pan. Make sure to remove all the dirt from all of the little crevices of the mushroom so your recipe doesn't come out grainy.
Never overcrowd mushrooms in a pan or they won't brown properly. Mushrooms have a high water content, which means that if you overcrowd your pan, mushrooms will start steaming instead of searing, and water will begin to invade your recipe.
If water occurs don't panic!
Water sometimes comes along to ruin the party when you're cooking mushrooms (especially if you don't follow the previous rule!), but if it does, and what you wanted was a nice dry sauté with golden mushrooms as a result, don't panic! Let the water evaporate, and then your mushrooms will start searing and getting golden once again. Let that happen before you continue with your recipe if you want to get a nice golden color on your mushrooms.
Choose the right type
Different mushrooms have a different water content, so choose your mushrooms depending on the result that you want. If you're looking for a preparation where little to no water comes out, for example topping your pizza with mushrooms, or doing a quick sauté, creminis, portobellos or shiitakes are your best bet.
Lemon goes incredibly well with mushrooms, and they can help in getting a beautiful look and color on your mushrooms, so adding a small squeeze while you cook them will give you awesome results.
Marinate them beauties!
Mushrooms are like tofu but better, they absorb anything you marinate them in, but they have the bonus of having tons of umami flavor themselves. This means these savory flavor boosting compounds, combined with your marinades or rubs, will make your tastebuds do jazz hands. Teriyaki, ginger-soy, chimichurri or herb and garlic marinades are delicious, and you have many more ideas below. Leave your mushrooms in the marinade for 30 minutes all the way up to overnight and then pop them on the grill or under the broiler.
No chopped meat needed!
Mushrooms, chopped small, make a perfect substitute for meat in bolognese sauce or lasagna. So good!
Skewers are your friends
Want to grill smaller mushrooms? Thread them through some skewers with other vegetables or tofu, seitan or tempeh and pop them on the grill, on a grill pan or in the oven. Forget flipping individual mushrooms that can fall through the grates, here you just turn the skewer!
If browning them for later use...
If you're browning mushrooms to use later in a dish, stew or as a topping, place them on a shallow plate after cooking, otherwise they will steam and lose the texture you've just created.
Favorite quick preparations
Mushrooms "al ajillo"
A total Venezuelan and Spanish favorite! Sauté button or cremini mushrooms with a bit of olive oil, lots of minced garlic, chopped parsley, salt, pepper, and a splash of lemon juice at the very end. It's Carlos's favorite!
Basic balsamic sauté
Sauté your favorite mushrooms with some garlic, and once browned, add some soy sauce, fresh herbs and balsamic vinegar, let evaporate and caramelize and serve!
Marinate your favorite mushrooms in teriyaki sauce with some chopped scallions, minced garlic and grated ginger, then grill, place under the broiler or sauté.
The original veggie burger
We've got so many incredible vegan burgers these days that we've forgotten about the original veggie burger!: A perfectly marinated and grilled giant portobello mushroom in a bun with all your favorite fixings. So good!
Portobello and tomato pasta
My favorite kind of pasta. Simply sweat some garlic and finely minced onion in a pan, add some sliced large portobellos and sauté until golden and cooked through. Add some tomato paste, deglaze the pan with a splash of wine, add some canned chopped tomatoes, chopped parsley and basil or oregano, salt, pepper, and toss with your favorite pasta.
Grilled shiitake skewers
I love marinating shiitake mushrooms in some soy sauce, a drizzle of agave, garlic powder, thyme and liquid smoke, then place them on skewers and grill them up.
Pesto stuffed creminis
Make our delicious oil free avocado spinach and basil pesto, roast or sauté some whole creminis and stuff them with the sauce. It's the biggest hit!
Grain stuffed portobellos
Rub some large portobello mushrooms with a bit of oil, season with garlic powder, thyme or rosemary, salt and pepper, and roast them in the oven until tender (you can also grill them). Stuff them with your favorite pilafs made with vegetables and couscous, quinoa, bulgur wheat or rice. Making a dressing or a sauce for people to add on top is also divine, especially a basic lemony vinaigrette.
Wild sage and mushroom sauté
Have a whole bunch of mushrooms that you don't know what to use for because they're slightly weird looking (like the enoki, maitake, etc)? Sauté them in a pan with a bit of non-dairy butter, some sage leaves, and top with sea salt flakes and freshly ground pepper. Add some gnocchi to this and make it into a whole meal!
Make your favorite gravies or pan sauces, and add lots of sliced mushrooms for added meatiness and nutrition, not to mention umami flavor.
Sweat some onions and garlic in a pan, brown some mushrooms, deglaze with a bit of wine (I love marsala which goes great with mushrooms), then add some cashew cream, freshly cooked noodles or spaetzle, and top with fresh herbs. Yes you'll be making this one all the time.
I could go on and on forever since mushrooms and I are besties and they're always in my fridge. I didn't get to talk about what mushrooms can do on pizza, calzone, risotto, not to mention plain old toast! Next time you're at the store, pick out some different types and start including them in your repertoire.