Welcome to ‘My Pantry’. I have always found that vegetables and meat don’t taste bad. What matters is how they are prepared! In ‘My Pantry’, I will attempt to explore ingredients that are commonly used or eaten but are not very well liked by most people.
The first in these series is the humble mushroom. Mushrooms are nothing but fungi found growing in the wild. Over centuries, we have learned to cultivate these pretty fungi and today, the variety available is pretty amazing. Mushrooms are simply the fruit bodies of fungus (toadstools) that sprout from soil in wet, humid conditions. A majority of mushrooms are poisonous – but the edible ones are certainly fine. Normally classified with vegetables, they are low in calories, made mostly of water and fat-free and are good sources of Vitamin B and Potassium.
Kinds of mushrooms
As a child, I remember having had mushrooms out of a tin, all soaked in brine. I would then wash off the brine and use the delicate little things in a simple Chinese mushroom stir fry or a pasta – never much more. When I came to Mumbai, I discovered that an uncle of mine had started a mushroom farming business and remember thinking that it sounded so exotic. Then, I started living on my own, and discovered fresh button mushrooms in the market! What a find! After some time, I discovered that button mushrooms are only the tip of the iceberg – there is a huge variety of mushrooms available in speciality and gourmet stores across the city. Local Banya has a lovely post on the various kinds of mushrooms – read it here.
In short – we currently have various kinds of mushrooms that are fast finding a market in India – Button Mushrooms, Shiitake, Porcini, Portabella, Oyster, Enoki, Morrels and even Truffles (yes, the rarest and most expensive mushroom that certainly makes you go weak at the knees!).
How to cook them!
Before cooking them, one must learn to clean mushrooms. While it is recommended that fresh mushrooms be cleaned only with a brush, because they can bruise easily, in India, it is better to clean them under running water with a light touch. Any black or depressed portion must be removed.
When mushrooms come in contact with heat, they start to lose their water content, which is rather high. Hence, it is advisable to sauté them on a medium-high flame. Stewing them will result in a rubbery texture. If you are just starting out with cooking mushroom, then start with the basic Button Mushroom. Over time, I’ve used this versatile ingredient in all kinds of dishes – pizzas, pastas, Stroganoff, Chinese stir fry, and even just sautéed in butter garlic or grilled.
If you are still a little sceptical about trying out a hardcore mushroom dish, then start small. Use it sparingly in a pasta. Here, I’ve made a regular Penne Pasta in a Tomato Basil Sauce and topped it with sautéed garlic mushrooms.
Or, you can use the mushroom in a dish that has much stronger flavours, but retaining the essence of the mushroom through its texture and flavour – like the Chicken Stroganoff.
You can also go all out and mix together some varieties of mushrooms with the regular button ones. Here, I made an Asian brinjal stir fry with button mushrooms in Sriracha and soy sauce topped with crispy Shiitake mushrooms.
The taste of Shiitake and Porcini can take a bit of getting used to. Their texture is much meatier and softer than the regular button mushroom. Both come in fresh and dried versions – where the latter has a much more intense taste that can tend to overpower the dish. I’ve had a horrid Porcini mushroom risotto once, so I know!
And, then you can simply stuff them with cheese topped with herbs and grill them in the oven. I’ve done these with regular button mushrooms; you can work on them using Portabella mushrooms, too. Grilled mushrooms tend to get cooked from all around and retain their moisture, making eating them a rather sumptuous experience.
And, finally, if you are feeling a little more adventurous, you can simply chop them up, stir fry them in some butter with chopped garlic, top with parsley and spread it on toast, or it eat just as is!