Food Focus: Mushrooms

There are certain foods that I detested eating as a child, but now thoroughly enjoy as an adult. Anchovies and olives are two foods that spring to mind — so do mushrooms. But although my appreciation for mushrooms might have been somewhat belated, I’ve been making up for my missed mushroom years and I’m now fascinated with fungi!

What enamors me most about mushrooms is their wonderful earthy flavor, delightful ‘meaty’ texture, and extraordinary versatility. I’m also enchanted by the culinary contradiction that mushrooms are such a prized food in so many cultures, yet they’re not plants (in the sense that they don’t need the sun to survive and grow), they’re actually organisms that live in or on other organisms — in other words, parasites.

Mushrooms have been revered by Mediterranean home cooks for centuries. Italians are well known for their fondness of fungi, and hunting for wild mushrooms is still a common practice in many parts of Italy. To bring out the best in fresh mushrooms, such as porcini or cremini, Italians often pair them with simple ingredients like extra virgin olive oil, garlic, parsley, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mushrooms are also used to enhance the flavor of many classic Italian dishes including pastas and risottos, and they make the perfect topping for pizza and bruschetta.

Spaniards too, have discovered the magic of mushrooms, and they’re enjoyed in dishes ranging from tapas (Champiñones al Ajillo, or garlic mushrooms, is a popular tapas dish) to hearty stews and rice dishes.

The French make memorable meals from mushrooms teamed with eggs including mushroom-filled omelets, crepes and quiches, and eat them fresh in salads, cooked in soups and casseroles, or stuffed and baked.

Asian cooks have their own repertoire of mushroom specialties. Fresh and dried mushrooms such as shiitake, enoki and oyster are used whole or sliced in stir-fries, braises, curries and noodle dishes. They’re also enjoyed in soups such as Tom Yam Hed (Thai spicy sour Mushroom soup), and make a great addition to Laksa (Malaysian noodle soup). Sliced mushrooms are also a common addition to the delicate clear soups of Japan, and they’re often added to miso soup for flavor and texture.

Miso soup with mushrooms is a definite favorite in our household too. Sometimes we might just scatter some thinly sliced fresh mushrooms into a bowl of miso soup. Other times we might turn the miso soup into a full meal — such as in the recipe below — by adding soba noodles, grated fresh ginger, bite-size vegetable pieces, and mushrooms. We typically use dried mushrooms (reconstituted in hot water) for this noodle broth, because they have a firmer texture and more full-bodied flavor than fresh mushrooms. But thickly sliced fresh mushrooms (shiitake or button) still work really well.

Mushroom Miso Broth with Soba Noodles

Serves 2

  • 7 dried shiitake mushrooms (available at Asian grocery stores)
  • 5 1/2 cups dashi stock
  • 1 carrot – peeled and sliced thinly on diagonal
  • 1 scallion (spring onion) – sliced on diagonal
  • 1/2 small eggplant (aubergine) – cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 cup roughly chopped bok choy
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
  • 3 1/2 oz (100g) dried soba noodles
  • 1 tablespoon Japanese soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon miso paste

SOAK the mushrooms in boiling water while you prepare the ingredients. PLACE the stock in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. ADD the carrot, ginger and soy sauce, and simmer for 2 minutes. ADD the scallion, eggplant, bok choy and noodles and simmer for 3 minutes. DRAIN the reconstituted mushrooms, squeeze the excess moisture from them, slice, and add to the broth. ADD the miso and stir to dissolve without bringing to the boil. SERVE in bowls.

Variation: Silken tofu, cut into small cubes, makes a great addition to this soup.

If this post has put you in the mood for mushrooms, here are some more mushroom recipes (and recipes that include mushrooms as a prominent ingredient) from our website:

Miso Soup with Tofu and Mushroom
Beef and Mushroom Lasagna
Ham, Mushroom and Tomato Pizza
Mushroom, Bacon and Walnut risotto
Champiñones al Ajillo
Mushroom Bruschetta
Singapore Noodles
Marinated Tofu and Vegetable Stir-Fry