From shiitake to portabella, mushrooms have long played a part in food cultures around the world. Mushrooms are classified as fungi since they are grown from microscopic spores rather than a seed. Chinese, Greek, and South American cultures believed that mushrooms possessed magical and healing powers. In Egypt, mushrooms were so revered that they were seen as food fit only for the pharaohs.
Mushrooms offer an abundance of nutrients and health benefits for very few calories. They are one of the few foods high in vitamin D, which is necessary for hormonal regulation, fighting fatigue and depression, and maintaining strong bones. Mushrooms make vitamin D much like humans do, through the conversion of sterols in the skin using UV rays.
There are thousands of mushroom varieties, but only 2-5% of wild varieties are safe to eat. North Idaho has an abundance of wild mushrooms. Morels and their characteristic honeycomb-like heads can be found in the spring and summer, and are a good source of vitamin D. Drying morels intensifies their woodsy flavor. Chanterelles, a northwest native, can be found in the fall. They have a fan-like appearance and notably peppery taste yet fruity aroma. Since there are more poisonous mushrooms than edible ones, make sure you go with an experienced mushroom hunter and use a guide book.
If you’re less inclined to gather wild mushrooms, you can always go to the grocery story. Mild flavored white button mushrooms are one of the most common and inexpensive varieties. Shiitake mushrooms, which are native to East Asia and revered in Chinese culture, are typically more expensive, and are popular for their meaty texture and woodsy flavor. Crimini mushrooms, also known as “baby bellas” are delicious when roasted or sautéed with garlic, broth, wine, or rosemary and thyme. Portabella mushrooms, hailed for their meaty texture, are the mature version of criminis. Portabellas make a great meatless “burger” alternative.
Mushrooms are one of the few items in the vegetable food group that release more nutrients with cooking. They impart an umami flavor, characterized by a meaty and savory taste. Toss cooked mushrooms into pastas, omelets, burgers, stews, or on pizza.
The following sausage and mushroom stuffing recipe taken from the Mushroom Council is the perfect comfort food to warm you up on a crisp fall night:
Sausage and Mushroom Stuffing
Yield: Makes 4-6 servings
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 portobello cap
1 large or 2-3 small shiitake caps
3 shallots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1/2 pound ground mild Italian sausage
1/2 cup raisins
4 cups cubed sourdough bread
2 1/4 cups low sodium chicken stock
salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons thyme leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1. Preheat the broiler to high. Place the bread on a large, rimmed baking sheet and broil 3-4 minutes or until the bread is golden. Set aside to cool.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 9×13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
3. Place the mushroom caps in a food processor and pulse to break the mushrooms until it resembles the ground Italian sausage.
4. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, celery, carrot and shallots. Cook 3-4 minutes or until vegetables are softened.
5. Add the sausage and cook until brown, breaking up the meat as it cooks.
6. Add the raisins and cook for 1 minute.
7. Pour 1/4 cup stock into the skillet, scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the skillet.
8. Transfer the sausage mixture to a large bowl. Add the chicken stock, thyme and bread. Season to taste with salt and pepper and toss to combine.
9. Pour the stuffing into the prepared baking dish and bake for 20 minutes.
10. Before serving, sprinkle the stuffing with fresh parsley.
Article by Natalie Colla, CDE, RDN, LDN. Natalie is a Registered Dietitian and Diabetes Educator with a focus on integrative and functional medicine.