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.