Reciplease! Pass, don’t pass up, the ‘shrooms

recipleaselogoEven the most indiscriminate eaters sometimes overlook mushrooms.

When people have food aversions, one of the most common reasons they offer up is, “I don’t like the texture.” Those who avoid mushrooms often cite texture as the main deterrent.

I can’t change the texture of mushrooms for you. And I wouldn’t try because I adore them.

But let me switch gears and tell you about my history with eggplant. It’s relevant, I swear.

When I gave up meat nearly 10 years ago, I wasn’t into food blogs yet, so I got a lot of my information and recipes from cookbooks. A friend loaned me a vegetarian cookbook, one of the first I’d encountered at that point, and it was absolutely brimming with eggplant and mushroom recipes because apparently those are the best naturally-occurring (i.e., non-soy, non-Morningstar/Boca) “meat substitutes.”

I already really liked mushrooms, so I was eager to try them in new ways. Eggplant, however … What the what was an eggplant?

Being newly committed to more healthful eating, I came home from my next trip to the grocery store with three eggplants and only a basic idea of what I was going to do with them. Feeling ambitious, I first tried my hand at eggplant Parmesan, but I ended up throwing it away. In hindsight, I know I sliced the eggplant too thick, and the skin was just unforgivably tough.

The second eggplant, I peeled and chopped for a stir fry. It was just okay. The rest of the veggies were amazing, but the eggplant, like unseasoned tofu, just kind of existed.

The third eggplant rotted on my kitchen counter.

I passed on eggplant for a long time after that. And that’s dumb, folks. If you try a new veggie in your own kitchen and don’t like it, consider the possibility of human error and go try it at a restaurant, or in a more experienced foodie-friend’s kitchen. Then revisit it.

Chanterelle mushrooms. Photo by Flickr user kenneslawen.

Chanterelle mushrooms. Photo by Flickr user kenneslawen.

Because let me tell you, about a year later, I had one of the best Italian meals I’ve ever had, and it was thin-sliced eggplant Parm, and I’ve loved eggplant from that day forward.

But back to mushrooms. September is National Mushroom Month. If you’ve avoided mushrooms, or just aren’t sure how to cook them yourself, now is a great time to give them another try.

If texture is your issue, here’s a breakdown of some types of mushrooms and their textures and flavors.

Types of mushrooms

  • Chanterelles – These mushrooms have funnel-shaped caps, range in color from black or brown to white or pale yellow, and have a fruity aroma.

    Button mushrooms. Photo by Flickr user flowercarole.

    Button mushrooms. Photo by Flickr user flowercarole.

  • White – These are the most common types of mushrooms. The smallest ones might be called “button mushrooms” at your market or store. They have a firm
    texture and the most mild flavor.
  • Oyster – Trumpet-shaped with brown, gray, or reddish caps, these shrooms have a velvety texture and taste peppery when raw (the flavor mellows as they cook or fry).
  • Portobellos – Another common variety, these mushrooms have the biggest, “meatiest” flavor, a firm texture and the ability to grow huge caps (if you see large brown mushrooms at market, they’re probably ‘bellos). While you can cook many mushrooms with the stems on, Portobello stems have a woody taste and chewy texture and are usually removed and discarded (or saved to make mushroom stock). They might be spelled “portabella.”
  • Shiitake – The mushroom of choice for stir fries and Asian-inspired dishes, shiitakes have a smoky flavor and slightly chewy texture. Tan to brown, they have a long, thin stem (like portobellos, remove the stems prior to cooking) and a small, umbrella-like cap. They don’t get soggy in soups.
  • Cremini/crimini – Technically young portobellos (i.e., “baby ‘bellas”), these mushrooms are similar to white or button varieties, but are darker in color and have an even more firm texture. They hold up well in sauces or slow-cook dishes, and you can keep the stems on.
Oyster mushrooms. Photo by Flickr user Island Vittles.

Oyster mushrooms. Photo by Flickr user Island Vittles.

Washing mushrooms: I will never recommend against making a good wash your first food prep step. But shrooms are delicate. They are also tiny sponges, which makes them fantastic for soaking up flavor, but also, for retaining water that can make them mushy when cooked. Still, The Kitch suggests giving mushrooms “a shower, not a soak.” If you have larger caps, you can also wipe them with a damp cloth, or rinse them quickly and let them air dry a bit.

Basic saute tip: If you’re just frying or sauteing mushrooms, you want to coat them with hot oil. The heat will draw off any moisture they’ve retained from their “shower,” and they’ll look soggy and bleh for a bit. Don’t cover them; let the moisture evaporate (a sprinkle of salt speeds that process up a bit) and the mushrooms turn golden brown and not-at-all soggy. A splash of balsamic vinegar at the very end, then immediately turning off the heat and stirring them for a few more minutes, yields a great flavor.

Shiitake mushrooms. Photo by Flickr user Building Blocks Show.

Shiitake mushrooms. Photo by Flickr user Building Blocks Show.

Now, you texturally finicky eaters, are you feeling adventurous? Because this recipe also contains tofu (also often maligned for its spongy texture) for some protein, though meat-eaters could substitute ground beef or turkey, or even bacon, and eliminate the tofu steps.

Vegans, use olive oil instead of butter.

Braised mushroom “ragu” (adapted from Stone Soup)

  • 3 ½ ounces smoked tofu, diced
  • 2 medium sweet onions, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (Ahem. Only two cloves, Stone Soup? Really?)
  • 3 lbs mushrooms (Slice half of them and chop the rest. It’s going to seem like a lot, but they cook down, trust me.)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme (dried is fine, but use a little less, or add it slowly to taste)
  • 1 14-ounce can of chopped tomatoes (or fresh tomatoes! Just sayin.)
  • 3 cups vegetable stock (Water is fine. Beef or chicken stock for the meat-eaters is fine, too.)
  • 2 ounces butter (olive oil for the vegans)
  • 2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a deep skillet or sauce pan and cook diced tofu, stirring often, until golden brown. Transfer tofu to a bowl and heat more oil. Add onions and cook until they start to brown, then add carrots, celery and garlic. Cook a few more minutes, then begin adding mushrooms in batches. Stir them until they cook down and you have room to add more.

When all the mushrooms have been added and cook down a bit to make room, add browned tofu, tomatoes, butter, soy sauce and thyme. Stir well, then add stock or water. Cook for up to 2 and ½ hours, stirring every half hour. The liquid will reduce if you don’t cover it, so keep an eye on the consistency; it should be sauce-like, and the mushrooms should be tender but not mushy.

Serving: Braised mushrooms are great on their own as a side dish, but the possibilities are endless for using them as a topper. My favorite mushroom underthings include baby penne, a cheese frittata, herbed polenta or fresh, homemade biscuits.

Punch it up for fall: You know those great microbrews and craft beers you’ll be trying at all the area fall festivals and Octoberfests (for a run-down, visit Ever try beer-braised … well, anything? Substitute beer for some or all of the stock or water in this recipe for a different flavor.

Another mushroom recipe: Veganize a Pennsylvania classic – the Philly cheesesteak —  with this Meatout Monday recipe from fellow YDR blogger Bethany Fehlinger.

Now please pass the mushrooms.

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