Ingredient Spotlight on Mushrooms

Hello! Welcome to Djalali Cooks. Today, I am excited to talk about fungi in this Ingredient Spotlight on Mushrooms. I really love mushrooms, they are so versatile: mushrooms can take the place of meat protein in any dish; chock full of health benefits and earthy flavor, mushrooms have been a culinary and medicinal staple since ancient times.

Mushrooms, or the fungi we see above ground are the fruiting bodies of a mycelium, a network of fungal threads. There are thousands of mushroom varieties, many are edible, some are poisonous – the Death Cap Mushroom being the most deadly. There are poisonous and edible species that are look-a-likes. This fact has always kept me from foraging for mushrooms, as I am not trained to forage on my own. But, these days purchasing (and growing!) varieties not commonly found in grocery stores is easier than ever.

Common Super Market Mushrooms

The most common varieties I find at the super market are White Button Mushrooms, Portobello, Crimini, Shiitake and sometimes I find a mushroom mix that contains Oyster and Shiitake Mushrooms. Of all the edible mushrooms, White Button and Crimini mushrooms have the mildest flavor. Portobellos are also mild in flavor; their size and meatiness make them great for stuffing with peppers and cheese. They also make a great burger substitute.

Less Common Mushroom Varieties

A more well-stocked, or specialty grocery store will have a wider variety of fresh mushrooms; often including Maitake, Chanterelle, Oyster, Morel and Beech Mushrooms.

Chanterelle mushrooms are usually foraged in the wild because they are not easily cultivated. This makes them a little challenging to find fresh in the supermarket. Their beautiful golden hue is wonderful in salads and in pasta. Chanterelles have a subtle flavor; an almost fruity, earthiness that is very easy to work with in a variety of recipes. Think: creamy pasta dishes, green salads, and of course Pizza!

Morels have a short growing season in the spring. They are prized for their texture and woodsy flavor. To me, Morels taste like what a forest floor smells like – they’re earthy, and nutty. I usually buy morels dried, they reconstitute well and retain a fair amount of their characteristic sponginess.

Oyster Mushrooms are pretty mild, with a hint of seafood flavor. They are particularly delicious sautéd in olive oil or butter with garlic and herbs. Their texture is really interesting when cooked; it’s meaty and soft with chewy stems, they are one of my favorite mushrooms.

Dried Mushrooms

It is often easier to find the more exotic mushroom varieties in dried form. Reconstituted mushrooms don’t always get back their spongy textures, but they are packed with flavor and will add umami and texture to any recipe. I have had great success with Vigorous Mountain Dried Mushroom Varieties. My favorites being Morels and Porcini.

I always keep dried Shiitakes on hand for flavoring soups and broths.

Growing Your Own Mushrooms

Last summer, I grew my own mushrooms with kits I purchased from Nearby Naturals. The two varieties I chose were Lion’s Mane and Oyster. Caring for the mushrooms and watching them grow was fascinating! Unfortunately, Nearby Naturals has switched from selling mushroom kits to selling dried mushrooms and mushroom extracts. You can find kits online on Etsy.

The Lion’s Mane was by far the most exciting to watch grow into its bulbous shape. I found this particular mushroom variety so interesting due to its health benefits.

Lion’s Mane contains two compounds that help stimulate brain cell growth; its ability to promote nerve growth and protect the brain from Alzheimer’s-related damage is particularly interesting. Studies have shown that Lion’s Mane can lesson symptoms of mild depression and anxiety. Research has also shown that Lion’s Mane can reduce inflammation in the digestive tract. There is a lot of research out there about the benefits of Lion’s Mane Mushroom. As of now, more human research is needed for definitive answers.

The Magical World Of Fungi

Fungi, in general, have a long list of proven health benefits. Mushrooms are packed with antioxidants, protein, minerals and vitamins. They have been proven to boost our immune system, lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation. With high amounts of zinc, potassium and vitamin D, it’s no wonder people have thought of mushrooms as a superfood for centuries.

I hope you have enjoyed our little trip through some of the common and less-common edible mushroom varieties on today’s Ingredient Spotlight on Mushrooms. I encourage you to seek out types you may be unfamiliar with, like Lion’s Mane or Chanterelle. Whether fresh or dried, mushrooms are a lot of fun to experiment with in the kitchen. And with the added health benefits associated with mushrooms, there’s no reason not to eat more mushrooms! Take care and be well everyone, xo Kelly

Check out a few recipe ideas for adding more fungi to your diet.

Mushrooms and Greens Grilled Cheese | Funky Mushroom Pizza | Super Mushroom Pizza | Spring Chicken Pot Pie

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  • Terry
    September 15, 2021 at 9:28 am

    This is a great article on mushrooms. I too love mushrooms snd am happy to say our Safeway here has a nice variety of fresh and dried mushrooms, I put them in almost everything I cook. Stuffed portobello are the best. Have a great day kelly ❤️Mom

    • Kelly Djalali
      September 15, 2021 at 9:31 am

      That’s great that Safeway has a good variety of mushrooms. I have to search a bit to find a variety of fresh ones here, but I get lucky from time to time. xo Kelly

  • Mari
    September 15, 2021 at 9:58 am

    This was fascinating. Most of them I had heard of, but I wasn’t sure what they were for, or what their flavor profile was like. Growing up, it seemed like everyone’s parents were hunting for morels every spring. They were very pricey at the farmer’s markets if you weren’t into foraging for yourself. I remember a friend of my daughters was excited because she found dried shiitake mushrooms at Costco. It was a 16 ounce bag and very inexpensive at the time. She was thrilled until i she realized how big it was! For the next two weeks she walked around with ziplock bags of the mushrooms in her purse, begging people to take them! I did of course and had miso soup quite often that fall. It reminded me of the time I bought a 16 ounce bag of dried chives through a food buying club. It was enormous! I never did that again. The lion’s head mushrooms were totally new to me, amd just fascinating to look it. They are well named and quite lovely in their own way. I can’t get over how amazing they ar. If you haven’t done a spotlight on cheese, could you please consider doing one? It would be helpful for everyone, and those of us who are dairy impaired are missing out on what to buy for the family, substitutions, etc. I had never heard of burrata until I came across it here. There is nothing dairy free that is comparable, but it was fun to see something new. My guys loved it on pizza.

    • Kelly Djalali
      September 15, 2021 at 10:08 am

      Hi Mari, Yes of course we can spotlight cheese! It’s definitely at the top of my list. The potential health benefits of Lion’s Mane in particular are super interesting to me. Cooking with fresh Lion’s Mane is pretty cool too. I have only had it fresh, since I grew that giant one last summer, it kept well in the fridge and I cooked with it for weeks. The flavor is a little like lobster, so interesting. The texture is super meaty and spongy. It soaks up sauces beautifully and is just such a treat to eat. Last fall, amazingly, I spotted a Lion’s Mane growing on a tree in our backyard. I was confident in my identification of it, but I left it to do its thing. I am curious to try the dried version, I will have some on order from Nearby Naturals soon. Have a great Wednesday! xo Kelly