I find that the mushroom is one of those food items that people either love or hate. Admittedly, mushrooms are a bit… creepy. I mean, after all, a mushroom is technically neither plant, nor mineral, nor vegetable, but a (gulp) fungus. And even though I fall in the ‘love ‘em’ camp, I can’t deny occasionally feeling just a bit weirded out – yet still strangely fascinated – by them. If you fall in the hate ‘em camp, I doubt I can do anything to convince you otherwise, but if you’re teetering somewhere on the edge of either camp, maybe these mushroom facts will sway you.
For the past few months, we’ve been doing Meatless Mondays at my house, and mushrooms have often played a starring role in dishes where we’d normally feature meat. The benefits of using mushrooms as a meat replacement are seemingly endless: they’re cheaper, cook faster, have no cholesterol, very little fat and sodium, and are chock-full of essential nutrients like potassium, selenium, and B vitamins. All of which makes the mushroom quite magical in my eyes.
Here are some of my favorite mushroom recipes:
Mushroom Quinoa Risotto (from Bon Appetit)
In this recipe, portabella and shiitake mushrooms are paired with so-called superfood quinoa (keen-wah) to create a much lighter, healthier version of a traditional risotto. It still has the rich-tasting, heartiness of risotto without the guilt or the lengthy, labor-intensive preparation, which makes it an ideal candidate for a weeknight dinner. You must try this.
Fried Parmesan ‘Shrooms over Tomato Sauce
(inspired by Lunacy Black Market)
One of the dishes I always order from my favorite Atlanta restaurant is roasted mushrooms w/crushed tomato sauce. The savory, umami flavor of the ‘shrooms and the tangy tomato sauce are enough to make my mouth water at the mere mention of the dish. When doing my own home-based version of the dish, I alternate between roasting the ‘shrooms or frying them as detailed below. This is a regular go-to dish for weekday dinners when I want to be in and out of the kitchen in less than 30 minutes.
Ingredients (serves 2-3):
4-5 roma tomatoes, chopped (you could also sub ~20 grape tomatoes)
1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 shallot or small onion, chopped (optional)
Portabella mushrooms, washed, de-gilled and sliced into thick 1”slices (you can also buy them pre-sliced to save time)
Olive or canola oil
Grated parmesan cheese
For tomato sauce: Add a swirl of olive oil to a pot. Heat on medium-high. Add chopped garlic and shallots and sauté for 3-4 minutes, being careful not to brown garlic. Add basil and sauté for another minute. Add tomatoes. Cover pot with a lid, lower heat to medium or medium-low and let the mixture simmer rapidly for about 15-20 minutes, or until tomatoes start to break down. Stir occasionally and mash tomatoes so that they meld with the other ingredients. You want to end up with a chunky sauce. Salt and pepper to taste, then remove from heat.
For mushrooms: Beat egg well in a bowl and place mushrooms in bowl. Toss mushrooms well to coat with egg. Place bread crumbs in a small paper or plastic bag. Add egg-coated mushrooms to bag and shake well to coat with breadcrumbs. Add enough oil to pan to cover bottom of – about 2-3 Tbsp – or if you prefer, you can use more oil to deep-fry mushrooms. Heat oil on medium-high. When oil is hot, add mushrooms one at a time, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Cook until mushrooms are golden brown on one side, then flip and cook until golden brown on the other side. Remove and drain on paper towel. Sprinkle immediately with grated parmesan. Place a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce on a plate and place a few mushrooms on top of sauce. The mushrooms are also really good over a salad of dressed mixed greens, or eaten by themselves.
Mushroom, Goat Cheese, and Arugula Flatbread Pizza
(inspired by Wrecking Bar Brewpub)
Everybody loves pizza. Unfortunately, pizza doesn’t love everybody. Your typical pie is nothing more than a cheese delivery system, and is usually topped with fatty meats and salt-laden sauces, and bottomed with a waistline-wrecking white-flour crust. But it doesn’t have to be that way, I promise. The Wrecking Bar, a delightful little gastropub in Little Five Points, serves a version that features 3 types of mushrooms and a healthy smattering of peppery arugula. Here’s how I replicate the dish at home (or in my office toaster oven).
Ingredients (serves 2-3):
Lavash or other flatbread (preferably whole-wheat)
Goat cheese (a soft, spreadable one)
3-4 of each of the following mushrooms, chopped: oyster, shiitake, portabella or baby portabella
Handful of fresh arugula
Spread goat cheese onto flatbread. Evenly distribute chopped mushrooms over goat cheese, then add arugula on top. Drizzle with olive oil. Place in 400 degree oven for about 5 minutes, until arugula is wilted. Salt and pepper to taste. You could add more flavor by adding roasted garlic, pesto sauce, sundried tomatoes, or fresh herbs (basil, sage, thyme) before the pizza goes into the oven.
I hope these recipes encourage you to experiment with mushrooms. If you’re the really adventurous types – I recommend trying some of the more exotic varieties like porcini, shiitake, oyster, hen of the woods and enoki. The taste of those varieties is much richer and more complex than the more common white button or portabella mushrooms. And if you choose to experiment with magical mushrooms outside of the kitchen, well… that’s totally up to you. ;)