Technically, spring is upon us but this can actually be one of the leanest times when it comes to finding local food. For those of you in warmer climes, you might already be enjoying those tender first spears of asparagus; dipping crunchy radishes into butter and salt or stewing rhubarb into cool compote to layer with yogurt. We’re not quite there yet. What a perfect time to talk about the fungus among us!
Mushrooms are an often overlooked and under-appreciated food stuff. Growing in dark, dank places with nary a rainbow hue to hint any nutritional value – we often think of mushrooms as just a neutral filler. That is where you would be wrong. Mushrooms have a host of nutrition benefits and are as versatile as your imagination. Mushrooms can lend a hearty, meaty texture to vegetarian dishes helping you slim down and tread lighter on the planet. Mushrooms are also a unique source of a vitamin D precursor and special polysaccharide molecules that help modulate the immune system. To delve into the super food side of mushrooms, it is time to go beyond the basic button.
In Asian cultures, certain varieties of mushrooms have been prized for their health-sustaining benefits. Shiitake mushrooms, rich in bioavailable iron, B vitamins and the anti-oxidant selenium, are well-researched for their promising health properties. Lentinan, a polysaccharide found in shiitakes, has been studied for potential anti-cancer activity. Eritadenene in shiitakes may help lower cholesterol. Crimini mushrooms (the brown buttons) are a unique vegan source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which may help lower estrogen production and crimini mushrooms appear to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. A whole world of fungi awaits to be discovered: crunchy enoki mushrooms, steak-like portobellos or velvety oysters all have unique flavours and textures to suit any dish.
At the market or in the store, look for mushrooms that have firm, dry flesh and be sure to carry them in a paper bag to help retain their texture. There is no need to wash mushrooms prior to use; ideally, simply wipe mushrooms with a damp cloth just prior to cooking. Otherwise, give a quick rinse and dry as thoroughly as you can.
What to do with those earthly beauties once you get home? Let us count the ways! Stir-fries, soups, casseroles, risotto, as a vegetarian main course or burger…there is a recipe for every occasion. Since April is National Cancer Awareness month, we thought we would create a recipe that highlighted the super food status of the humble mushroom.
Edible Medicine Soup
This soup packs a powerful punch; anti-inflammatory ginger, garlic and mushrooms fortify body and soul.
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 lb mixed mushrooms (use crimini as a base and add shiitakes and other exotic varieties as availability and budget allows)
4 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
1/2 cup white wine
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
1 bunch lacinato (black) kale, sliced into 1 inch pieces
1 litre low sodium veggie stock
1 can (540ml) no-salt added white beans, or 2 cups cooked beans
Salt to taste*
Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium heat; add onion and cumin seeds and sauté until onion glossy and transparent, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and continue to sauté until mushrooms release their liquid, about 3 minutes. Then, add garlic and stir frequently until most of the liquid is evaporated.
Deglaze the pot with white wine or water; when most of it evaporates, add the veggie stock and bring to a boil. Add 1 litre fresh water and then reduce heat to a simmer. Add ginger, kale and white beans and simmer for at least 20 minutes. The longer the soup simmers, the more the flavours will come together.
*We suggest salting to taste at the table instead of adding salt while cooking, in hopes of keeping salt content as low as possible. But if the salt is what you need to indulge in healthy foods, go for it. Try and keep it to 1/4 – 1/2 tsp.