Mushrooms are a universal pleaser; I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t like them. Their delicate subtle flavor and agreeable texture contribute to their popularity.
Mushrooms are commonly called fungi, but they are only the fleshy sporophores or the fruiting bodies of fungi. While most mushrooms are edible, some varieties are highly poisonous.
Mushrooms as food have been known to humans probably since pre-historic times.
Most common mushroom varieties available in the market are portobellos (button mushrooms, cremini, and baby bellas) and shiitake.
The morels are difficult to cultivate and hence highly prized. Truffles, though they do not resemble mushrooms are considered as such.
The edible mushrooms are free of cholesterol and contain small amounts of essential amino acids and B vitamins.
By fresh weight, the common commercially grown mushroom is more than 90 percent water, less than 3 percent protein, less than 5 percent carbohydrate, less than 1 percent fat, and about 1 percent mineral salts and vitamins.
While a majority of mushrooms consumed are cultivated, foraging for wild mushrooms is popular in regions where they are available. However, it takes some expertise to identify the edible varieties. Poisoning from mushrooms may be fatal or produce merely mild gastrointestinal disturbance or slight allergic reaction. And hence their role as means of murder in so many detective stories!
The most prevalent superstition about identifying a poisonous mushroom is to cook it in water to which a silver coin is added or stirring with a silver spoon. If the spoon turned black it was supposed to be proof that the mushroom was poisonous.
Some mushrooms are used in spiritual rituals as they have mind-altering effects. Some recent studies have shown that psilocybin, the chemical in the magic mushrooms could help treat depression in some people.
Fresh mushrooms don’t hold up well for long. They can be stored in the refrigerator crisper, in a paper bag, for two or three days. And never wash a mushroom in water; just wipe them clean, multiple times, with wet paper towels.
The mushroom soup presented today is simplicity itself, but tastes delicious.
- 2 ounces dried mushrooms (like cremini, shiitake, whatever is available)
- 4 tablespoon butter
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 pound fresh mushrooms like shiitake or button, sliced (a variety is nice)
- ⅓ cup sherry
- 5 cups liquid (chicken stock, mushroom-soaking liquid or a combination)
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- ½ cup cream (optional)
- Soak the dried mushrooms in 3 cups very hot water for a minimum of 15 minutes. When they soaked, drain and chop them roughly.
- Add enough chicken stock to the water in which the mushrooms were soaked to make up 5 cups.
- Heat butter in a largish pot. Add the thyme leaves and chopped onion. Sauté till onion is softened without starting to brown.
- Add the garlic and sauté for a minute.
- Add both the sliced fresh mushrooms and the chopped soaked mushrooms.
- Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir together and cover and cook on medium heat, for 20 minutes.
- Add the sherry and deglaze.
- Add the stock and mushroom soaking liquid and mix thoroughly. Cover and cook on simmer till mushrooms are fully done, for about 15 minutes.
- Using an immersion blender, puree the mushroom mixture to your desired consistency.
- Add the cream, if using, and adjust the seasoning.
- Serve warm or at room temperature.