The beige-colored, slippery looking half rounds—reminding me of umbrellas with their rod and handle slashed—came from a can and were part of many of our meals growing up. My mother added these “button mushrooms” to tomato sauce, casseroles, hearty stews and soups.
Since those long-ago days, I haven’t indulged in a can of these—ever—because the fresh button mushroom remains as one of the most readily available mushrooms on the market today—no need to buy them in a can. But they are not alone -- now we can choose from a variety of interesting mushrooms with names and shapes running the gamut from appealing to bizarre. From their unconventional colors to their (sometimes) spongy texture, where do we begin? Enoki, shiitake, oyster, agaric, king trumpet, champignon, abalone, moral, Hen of the Woods?
Google mushrooms and you will not only find a variety of edible and non-edible mushrooms, you will discover their powers – medicinal, magical and mythical. Legend and lore aside, mushrooms add a depth of flavor to a variety of dishes and their meat-like heft and texture turn out remarkably robust meals.
The first time I departed from the ubiquitous button mushroom to a more exotic variant was years ago in a quaint restaurant in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Enoki replaced the traditional white mushroom in what was billed as a spinach salad — an unconventional version that also included radicchio, Canadian bacon and quail eggs! I loved how the enoki graced the landscape of this unique first course; tall, paper-white, skinny and pin-headed versions of its cousin, the traditional button.
From this experience I opened the door to many more mushroom varieties and possibilities. Indeed, the fall season is an ideal time to explore the variety of these high fiber, low fat and cholesterol-free edibles that are offered in most grocery stores. Be open to all the options: add mushrooms raw or cooked to sandwiches, salads, soups, stuffing, stir fries, omelets, pizza, casseroles; or, to capture their individual flavors, simply sauté them in your favorite cooking oil or butter.
Here is a description of a few of my favorite fungus friends. They can typically be found in most grocery stores or from the farmers market. Trumpet-like with a depression in the center of its cap, the chanterelle is one of the most popular wild mushrooms.
Trumpet-like, with a depression in the center of its cap, the chanterelle is one of the most popular wild mushrooms. Fleshy and firm, it is prized for its fruity apricot-like aroma. Chanterelle’s range in color from pale white, yellow, orange, brown or black.
CREMINI AKA BABY BELLAS
Similar to white mushrooms but with a firmer texture and deeper flavor, creminis are actually a young portobello. The button-like caps range from pale tan to rich brown.
Velvety and trumpet-shaped, oyster mushrooms are grayish-brown or whitish in color and fan-shaped, with a delicate odor and flavor.
Portobello’s have a big, steak-like taste and texture. The huge, light brown umbrella-like caps are often substituted for meat and served as vegetarian burgers. Remove the woody stems before eating.
With tan to dark-brown umbrella-like caps, shiitakes have a distinctively smoky flavor and taste. Available fresh or dried, they are best when cooked and work well in stir-fries. Fresh shiitakes have a light woodsy flavor and aroma, while their dried counterparts are more intense.
WHITE AKA BUTTON
White mushrooms range in size from tiny—hence the name button. They have a mild flavor and are harvested when young. The jumbo white mushroom version are commonly stuffed and baked. Both are creamy white to pale tan, with a delicate flavor. In France, button mushrooms are called champignons—this is how they are often referred to on many restaurant menus.
CHICKPEA AND BUTTON MUSHROOM SOUP WITH FETA AND KALAMATA OLIVES
Not only is this soup simple to assemble, it’s nutritious, requires very little cooking time, and it’s beautiful. I like the mellow flavor the button mushroom gives this soup, especially with the robust flavors that come from the feta and Kalamata olives, it’s such a complementing contrast. To round out the meal, serve with a hearty loaf of dark bread or any country-style loaf with a crispy crust.
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 ½ cups sliced fresh mushrooms
2 cups chicken broth
1 can (14 ounces) chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes
10 ounces frozen spinach, thawed
Salt and pepper, to taste
Feta cheese, crumbled
Kalamata black olives, pitted
In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium heat and sauté garlic and mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are tender, about 3–5 minutes. Add chicken broth, chickpeas, tomatoes and spinach. Cover, raise the temperature a notch, bring soup to a boil, and then reduce heat to simmer. Season the soup with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls. Serve immediately and pass the feta cheese and black olives to your guests.
ARUGULA SALAD WITH SAUTÉED HALLOUMI
I sampled my first forkful of arugula about ten years ago when we were vacationing in Saint Lucia. We were dining in a tiny, hill-top, open-air restaurant overlooking the cobalt-blue Caribbean Sea when the waiter presented us with a complimentary sampling of the evening’s “rocket salad special.” The leaves glistening with oil and paper-thin ribbons of Parmigiano-Reggiano looked like miniature versions of the dandelion leaves that I so often saw at the farmer's market at home.
Arugula (pronounced ah- ROO-guh-lah) -- rucola in Italian, rocket in Saint Lucia and many other places -- delivered a flavorful punch, both peppery and tart, like no other lettuce leaf salad I'd ever tasted. The leaves were tender, yet refreshingly crisp. The fruity olive oil and salty-sweet cheese balanced the naturally bold flavored greens. These two pronounced ingredients tamed arugula’s sharpness, making this two-bite sample irresistible. After a taste of warm, crusty house made bread and a sip of Pinot Grigio, I was eager to order the salad from the menu; arugula definitively rocked my taste buds.
Once home I learned that arugula is a supermarket staple and that it's standard fare in Italian-style salads. It's also delicious in risotto, pasta dishes and soups, and makes a great pesto. I turned arugula into a myriad of dishes and quickly discovered its wake-up flavor teams beautifully with a variety of cheese dishes, vegetables or nestled under seafood, grilled meat and poultry.
I liked arugula so much, I planted it in our garden and have done so every year since — I was thrilled to find it’s so easy to grow! For dinner one night, I tossed garden-fresh leaves with a simple oil and vinegar dressing and topped the peppery-tasting greens with halloumi cheese. Halloumi is a superior tasting cheese made from goat’s milk and sheep’s milk. It has a high melting point, so it can be grilled or sautéed.
I’m always grateful when a favorite fruit or vegetable like arugula has two seasons. Arugula prefers the cooler temperatures of spring and fall when it's harvested -- a bonus for arugula lovers to be able to enjoy this great tasting green twice a year!
ARUGULA SALAD WITH SAUTÉED HALLOUMI
Halloumi is salty, so if you’re watching your salt intake, omit this ingredient from the vinaigrette recipe. Halloumi can be found in the specialty foods refrigerated section of most grocery stores.
1 teaspoon salt
Several grindings of freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¾ cup olive oil
8 generous handfuls of arugula
Neutral oil for frying
1 package (8.8 ounce) halloumi cheese, cut into eight ¼-inch slices
1. In a 2-cup jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine salt, pepper, mustard, apple cider vinegar and olive oil. Cover and shake until ingredients are combined. Keep vinaigrette at room temperature until ready to use.
2. Shake vinaigrette and toss with greens, just enough to coat the leaves.
3. Divide greens among 8 salad plates.
4. Cover the bottom of a large sauté pan with oil, and over moderate heat, sauté halloumi until light golden brown (browning will be uneven), about 1–2 minutes per side.
5. Top each salad with a slice of cheese. Serve immediately.