I have a bit of a conflicted relationship with meat. I don’t love the idea that animals have to die for us to eat it (I was reminded of this when I sat down to dinner with my sister and her 3 year old who asked, as he stabbed a piece of beef with his fork, “Mom, is this from a dead cow?” “Yes, it is.” “Mom, how did the cow die?”….) But I personally feel better when I have some meat/fish in my diet and do believe that there are nutrients in animal products that are highly beneficial to me. But I don’t like meat to taste like meat and so am always in search of new flavors to make meat taste not like meat. Enter the mushroom…
Yesterday I concocted meatballs with shitake mushrooms that were, in a word, outstanding. In keeping with shitake’s Eastern origins, I made a soy, ginger sauce that I drizzled over top, which made it near impossible to eat just one – or two or three … But it was really the highly flavorful shitakes that “made” the dish.
And so in honor of shitakes: Everything you never knew about mushrooms …
- Most mushrooms are parasites – living off decaying plants and plant-remains (eg compost), making them easy and cheap to grow on “farms”. So why are chanterelles, porcini and truffles so expensive? Because they grow symbiotically on living trees and therefore have to be harvested from the wild. (Morels, fall in between – they can live off decaying trees but the trees must be wild.)
- Unlike plants, mushrooms can’t make energy from the sun.
- The part of the mushroom that we eat is the fruit – most of the fungus (the part we don’t eat) stays underground.
- Nutritionally, mushrooms are high in B vitamins, as well as the minerals selenium (good for heart-health), potassium, calcium and iron. They’re also higher in protein than any other fresh produce. Most “experts” (whoever this panel is) believe that shitake mushrooms (as well as the less popular “ear mushrooms”) have a substance that inhibits tumor growth in humans and are therefor are viewed as having greater medicinal value than the other varieties.
- Unlike most produce that is less nutritious when not fresh, dried mushrooms, have even greater flavor and nutrients (once re-hydrated). The drying enhances the enzymes and transforms ergosterol (a compound in the mushroom) to Vitamin D (if the drying is done by sunshine or artificial UV rays).
Dried mushrooms look remarkably prehistoric.
A close up of these shriveled beauties.
- The deep-meaty flavor of mushrooms is due to concentrated glutamic acid, which gives mushrooms (along with seaweed) their own naturally occurring MSG.
- As for storage, store in a paper bag (not plastic) so that water loss is absorbed by the paper bag and does not stay on the mushrooms, spoiling them.
- Oh and forgot the “rule” about not washing mushrooms but wiping them off instead. They’re mostly 90% water to begin with (!), so if they absorb a few drops, who cares. Wash away.
Here’s what the end product looked like…
You and mushrooms? How do you like to cook with them?
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