Ingredient of the Week: Mushrooms
I first went food shopping with Neil back when we first met and lived in the same block of flats as each other. We agreed to share the cooking and I very quickly became aware just how limited his knowledge of vegetables was. His speciality dishes were fajitas and macaroni cheese, both of which were made using packet sauces and distinctly lacking in colour. To be fair, peppers did go in the fajitas with the chicken and baby corn in the macaroni cheese, but nothing else and no variety. I set myself the challenge of increasing his vegetable intake gradually and as mushrooms would work well in both of these dishes, this was the first vegetable I introduced him to.
The first time he took the mushrooms out of the bag he didn’t have a clue how to prepare them or anything and so I realised I had a long task ahead of me. I was successful though. He now eats a vast array of vegetables and will even sometimes order meals when out that are vegetarian. Mushrooms have turned out to be one of his favourites. They are a popular addition at breakfast, lunch or dinner. The larger flat ones or portobello, are great grilled and added to burgers, or stuffed with goats cheese and baked in the oven. The smaller button, or closed cup ones are great added to a pilaf, pasta sauce, chowder or stew. They are incredibly versatile and used in most cuisines. There are many different varieties of mushrooms, some of which are poisonous and so best avoided. Only pick them in the wild if you know what you are looking for as there is even a variety called the death cap mushroom that can kill you if consumed. Other edible varieties include porcini, common in Italian cooking, chanterel, found in French cuisine and shiitake used in mainly Chinese recipes.
Why are they good for me?
White mushrooms like button and closed cup, are one of the few non animal food sources of vitamin D in our diet, as they absorb the UV rays from sunlight. We get most of our vitamin D naturally from sunlight. However, in Britain, due to the intensity of the sun’s rays, we can only produce vitamin D from March to October between the hours of 11.00 and 15.00. The rest of the year we are not able to produce it ourselves. This is why it is very common for people to have vitamin D difficiency. Vitamin D is important for the development of healthy, strong bones, teeth and muscles. You can maximise the vitamin D levels in mushrooms by leaving them upside down, as the undersides are more sensitive to UV rays, on a window sill in direct sunlight for the hours before you wish to use them.
Mushrooms are a good source of selenium which is used by the body to help maintain a strong immune system and prevent damage to cells and tissues. There is increasing evidence to suggest that including mushrooms in your diet can lower the risk of developing cancer as they protect against DNA damage and inhibit tumour formation.
How do I prepare them?
If I am using button mushrooms I simply slice them in half or quarters if they are large before cooking them. If I’m using closed cup or the larger ones I remove the stalks first by simply snapping them away from the cap as they are more fibrous and not as nice to eat.
How do I cook them?
Evidence suggests that to maximise the nutrient content of mushrooms, the best way to cook them is in a microwave or grill, as this involves a shorter cooking time. I generally add them to a recipe towards the end of the cooking process for this reason. If they lose their fluid content then the nutrient content gets leached away.
I must admit though, one of my favourite ways to eat mushrooms is fried in a little bit of butter and garlic and served with scrambled egg for breakfast. They are a great accompaniment to any breakfast or brunch dish to be honest. I love them in omelettes, or on toast with poached eggs. My favourite way to eat them though is included in a risotto like my chorizo one or my mushroom and squash one.
You can even eat some varieties of mushroom raw in salads, although I’m not a massive fan of this as I find the texture a little strange in my mouth. They are also great with cream or a white wine sauce like carbonara, chicken chasseur or mushroom soup, but as I try to avoid using products that are high in saturated fat or calories in my diet I very rarely have them. This doesn’t mean to say that when I do treat myself I don’t enjoy it. One of my favourite starters to have is mushrooms stuffed with cheese and baked in a creamy garlic and white wine sauce in the oven.
I hope reading this has encouraged you to include mushrooms in your diet more. Let me know if you have enjoyed any of my mushroom recipes, and if you have any good recipe recommendations for me to try. I’m always looking for new suggestions.
Thank you for reading and speak soon.