Although mushrooms are enormously versatile, many home cooks don’t quite know how to bring them to their full potential. If you’re still under the impression that all they’re good for are recipes like stroganoff and alfredo sauce, it’s time to unleash your creative side in the kitchen.
Mushrooms in Curry
People who haven’t visited the subcontinent will probably not associate Indian cuisine with mushrooms, but in reality they are eaten quite often in the South. In the drier northern regions, mushrooms are rarely found growing naturally and haven’t made it into many traditional recipes, while some strict vegetarians will avoid fungi due to them not belonging to the plant kingdom.
When it comes to spicy dishes, though, mushrooms’ ability to absorb flavors that will later be released in your mouth makes them extremely useful. Their own subtle yet powerful flavor can be used to complement a variety of meats and vegetables, while their unique texture can liven up almost any kind of stew.
Snacking on Mushrooms
Mushrooms, particularly less common varieties, are a sort-of exotic ingredient that’s still cheap enough to be used for any occasion, including cocktail platters.
One of the secrets to fancy dishes is actually to keep them as simple as possible, as well making them easy to prepare a few hours in advance. The last thing you want to be doing while entertaining is checking the oven every five minutes.
A simple mushroom mousse requires only that you toss a cup of cottage cheese, a cup of fried mushrooms, a handful of cashews and some seasonings into a food processor and hit the button. If your kitchen is still lacking a processor, you should consider spending the $100 or so to make cooking easier for the rest of your life. A trick that most people don’t know is that, if you saute the mushrooms slices a few at a time in a very hot pan, they will remain white instead of discoloring.
Alternatively, small mushrooms are the perfect finger food when stuffed and roasted. Simply remove the stems and fill with some garlic-herb butter or even wasabi paste. It’s elegance without effort.
Vegetarians using fungi to boost their vitamin B intake should know that slicing mushrooms into a salad won’t help much: the cell walls of fungi are pretty tough, so mushrooms need to be cooked to release all their nutrients.
There is an alternative, though: allowing mushrooms to soak in an acidic solution has much the same effect as cooking them, while preserving more of their nutritional value and bringing out some truly interesting flavor notes. There are plenty of recipes out there, but the basic principle is just to make a mixture of vinegar, water, sugar, salt and aromatics and either blanch the mushrooms (or bell peppers, or cauliflower, or any vegetable you can name) in the mixture or just leave it to marinate for up to a week. Even people who claim to not eat salad will clear their side plates when some beautiful pickles are added to it.