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.
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.