I grew up foraging for mushrooms in Wisconsin. As a young girl, I enjoyed the fun game of finding these elusive and even Seussical-looking creatures growing out of dead stumps and fallen decaying trees.
Mushrooms love growing in the deep, dark and thick forest floor and exist incognito there quite nicely — until a trained mushroom hunter’s eye spies them. Our favorites to pick were morels, oyster and shaggy manes — each unique and having a signature flavor all their own.
Often called the steak of the vegetarian world, mushrooms are a fungus that deliver meaty, juicy and chewy texture and rich flavor. They are one of those things that you either love or simply avoid, picking them out as carefully as you can when served on your plate.
Recently it seems their meaty, rich flavor has gotten the attention of chefs, and they are being used as a meat extender in dishes in posh restaurants. It’s fast becoming a trend. You can easily chop them finely and add them to burgers to use less meat. This is a great option for those trying to put more plants on their dinner plate or lower their grocery bill.
When substituting shrooms for meat, you’ll be lowering cholesterol, saturated fat and calories in one fell swoop. Portabella burger, anyone? Mushrooms have 30 calories per cup, so that’s a calorie bargain in my book. Especially when you consider their fiber content that makes them very filling and satisfying — both qualities that can help with weight loss and weight control.
How do they stack up nutritionally? They are a vitamin D superstar, being the only pick in the produce aisle that is high in vitamin D. In fact, few foods are, unless they are fortified with it. Did you know that mushroom growers can increase the amount of vitamin D in mushrooms by exposing them to ultraviolet light? The plant sterol in mushrooms called ergosterol is converted to vitamin D. This is often marked on the mushroom package because the amount of vitamin D with this growing method skyrockets. They also deliver potassium, selenium, B vitamins, copper and antioxidants.
I noticed an explosion of different varieties of mushrooms at a local grocery store last week, along with different forms of them. Many different types of dried mushrooms (that you simply reconstitute for recipes by adding water and soaking them) and also an array of new fresh varieties I hadn’t seen before. I tried two new fresh ones — the beech and maitake mushrooms — by smoking them on the grill and adding them to a delicious spinach salad. They added show-stopping color and visual appeal to this salad, along with unforgettable flavor.
Mushrooms are a virtual blank canvas, just waiting for you to paint the flavors that add a deeper taste profile. Try some new varieties and enjoy them with garlic, onions, herbs, spices, flavored vinegars, cooking wines (my favorite to add is sherry).
Kim Larson is a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified health and wellness coach and founder of Total Health. Got to www.facebook.com/totalhealthnutrition or www.totalhealthrd.com to learn more. Follow her on Twitter @healthrd.
Mighty mushroom blended burger
1/2 pound any variety mushroom
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound ground beef
1/2 teaspoon salt
Finely dice mushrooms or gently pulse in food processor.
In skillet, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil on medium-high heat and add mushrooms, cooking 5-7 minutes, or until golden brown.
Remove from heat and cool 5 minutes. Transfer cooled mushrooms to medium bowl.
Add ground beef and salt, mixing until combined. Make 4 patties.
Add remaining olive oil to pan and cook burger patties on medium-high heat until internal temperature reaches at least 160 F. Plate and add desired toppings to bun.
Top with pickled peppers, crumbled blue cheese and watercress greens. Makes 4 servings.
Disclaimer: This is not a paid endorsement.
— Recipe reprinted with permission by The Mushroom Council. Find more recipes at www.mushroomcouncil.com.