Of the Earth
Mushrooms have been a staple in the diet since ancient times. They are neither fruit nor vegetable, but actually a fungus that is self-sufficient in nutritional development as mushrooms gain their nutrients from metabolizing non-living organic matter. Mushrooms are the perfect food due to their naturally low sodium levels, zero fat, and cholesterol, and are they’re gluten-free.
White button mushrooms are the most popular because of their very mild flavor; these are found mostly in salads, pizza toppings, and mushroom sauces. Crimini, or “baby bellas” are small brown mushrooms that offer a deeper flavor and usually accompany a pork or beef dish. They are also often found in Asian dishes. Shiitake mushrooms are on the opposite end of the spectrum of white buttons; they offer a deep woodsy flavor and are often used as a meat substitute in vegetarian dishes.
What’s in it for Me?
For many, it’s a habit to check the fat, protein, carbohydrate, and vitamin contents of a food, but we rarely check the trace mineral values of a food. Trace minerals are required for our bodies in maintaining healthy fluid balances, regulating hormones, regulating blood pressure, and more.
Common trace minerals are iron, zinc, fluoride, and iodine, but the human body also requires small amounts of selenium, potassium, and copper. Luckily, the mushroom provides all of these last three. Selenium is a component of antioxidant enzymes that regulate the thyroid hormone. Potassium assists in regulating blood pressure by helping the kidneys excrete excess sodium. Copper is a component of several enzymes involved in iron metabolism and serves as an antioxidant.
Mushrooms are also a good source of the B vitamins: B5, or pantothenic acid, which is essential for energy metabolism. B3, or niacin, which helps control HDL levels and is essential for ATP and DNA repair. Vitamin B2, or riboflavin, is essential for RNA/DNA synthesis and control of neurofunctions. While not only providing a good dose of vitamins, mushrooms also provide trace minerals, which are essential to keep the body balanced and in-check.
Cooking with Mushrooms
Mushrooms are an excellent way to amp up the vitamin and mineral content of any dish. First, they must be cleaned and stemmed. This is best done by using a damp paper towel and lightly rubbing the mushroom until no debris is visible. Remember, these came out of the ground so there’s going to be a bit of dirt on them. Never submerge or rinse a mushroom in food preparation. The porous exterior of the mushroom easily absorbs whatever it comes in contact and if the mushroom is submerged in water, it’ll end up limp and tasteless.
Mushrooms are often sauteed in butter or flavored olive oils to enhance their flavor. Additionally, some use the woodsy shiitake mushroom with a combination of beef broth to create a rich, deep sauce for beef dishes.
Cream of Mushroom Soup
16 oz. mushrooms
32 oz. vegetable stock (or broth of choice)
1 small sweet yellow onion
4 Tbsp butter or ghee, divided
1 c. heavy cream
1 tsp. turbinado sugar
3 tsp. cooking sherry
Salt/pepper to taste
Optional: Garnish with thyme or marjoram
- With a damp paper towel, lightly wipe debris from mushrooms and remove stems.
- Pulse mushrooms in food processor (in batches). Set aside.
- Pulse onions in food processor until fine. Set aside.
- Place 3 Tbsp. of butter in a 6 quart pot. Add onions and sauté in butter at low to medium heat until translucent.
- Add mushrooms; stir and combine (this will be thick and grainy looking).
- Lightly sprinkle salt and pepper over mixture (1/4 tsp of salt max.)
- Continue to cook over low to medium heat for about 3 minutes
- Add broth (stock) and bring to boil for 3 minutes, uncovered.
- Turn off burner and cover soup; let cool a bit
- Add heavy cream to warm soup; stir
- Add sugar and sherry
- Allow soup to cook a while; add salt and pepper to taste
- This recipe features finely chopped mushrooms. For larger bites of mushrooms, do not put in food processor but instead course chop mushrooms.
- Chicken and beef broth may be substituted for vegetable broth.
- The combination of beef broth and shiitake mushrooms will create a deep, savory flavor, whereas chicken broth and button mushrooms will create a lighter flavor.
- A deeper, more creamy version of this soup may be obtained by incorporating a white roux; Roux is a French term for thickening agent and is usually a combination of fat, flour, and liquid.
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