Make the Most of Mushrooms

They may not be the most gorgeous vegetable in your shopping cart, but mushrooms are a delicious, nutritious, and versatile staple that deserves a frequent place on your dining table.

A nutritional powerhouse

Mushrooms are unique in that they’re the only member of the produce family that’s a natural food source of vitamin D. Just four or five button mushrooms contain about 15 IU of vitamin D. When fresh and dried mushrooms are exposed to the ultraviolet rays in sunlight, the vitamin D content may skyrocket from 15 IU to 400 IU.Vitamin D aside, mushrooms also contain all eight essential amino acids as well as riboflavin, niacin, and potassium, a mineral that helps to lower blood pressure.

Popular types of mushrooms

Here are a few types of mushrooms you might want to try:

Chanterelle: With their wrinkled, funnel-like caps and trumpet shape, chanterelles have a lovely aroma and are delicious in all manner of cooked dishes from soups to casseroles. You’ll likely find them fresh in the summer, though they’re also available dried or canned year round. Chanterelles have a nutty, delicate flavor, but can be chewy, so add them to a dish toward the end of cooking.

Cremini: Also called common brown mushrooms, these richly flavored mushrooms are actually immature portobellos. With an edible stem and a firm texture, they can be used in cooking as you would white mushrooms. Cremini are particularly good diced and sautéed for omelets and frittatas.

Cultivated white mushrooms: Ubiquitous in supermarkets and at produce stands year round, these mushrooms can be sliced into salads, sautéed and added to egg dishes, or stuffed with shrimp, crabmeat, or spinach. “Button” mushrooms, so-called because they are smaller, are perfect as a simple side dish: Just halve and sauté in a little extra-virgin olive oil with fresh herbs, a sprinkling of fresh pepper, and a little sea salt.

Enoki: Also called snow puff mushrooms or golden mushrooms, enokis are prized for their crunchy texture and their interesting shape (long stems with snowy white caps). They’re a natural for salads and can also be layered into sandwiches or added at the last minute to stir-fries and soups, since heat can cause them to toughen.

Morel: Pricier than other mushrooms, this sponge-like, nutty flavored variety, typically available fresh only during the spring, is delicious simply sautéed as a side dish, and also makes an excellent addition to pasta dishes and other “saucy” entrées. With a color that ranges from tan to dark brown, morels have a smoky, earthy flavor. When dried, that flavor intensifies.

Portobello: The “elephant” of the mushroom family, portobellos have a steak-like flavor and make a great veggie burger (or bun for a veggie burger) on their own. You can top portobellos with your favorite Phase 1 pizza fixings and then broil or grill them, or layer grilled portobellos with lettuce and tomato on a whole-grain bun (Phase 2). They’re also delicious sliced and sautéed on their own as a side dish. Another use: Chop up some portobellos and substitute them for breadcrumbs the next time you make a meatloaf.

Oyster: Pale-colored, peppery-flavored, and delicate, these fan-shaped mushrooms are also called tree mushrooms or oyster caps. Succulently tender when cooked, oyster mushrooms may be sautéed quickly in a little olive oil and then added to brown rice or wild rice pilafs. Try them raw in salads, too, where their mild, pleasing flavor can be the perfect counterpoint to your favorite greens.

Shiitake: Meaty and smoky-flavored, shiitake may be purchased fresh or dried, and are great in stir-fries. While the stems are too tough to eat on their own, they can be removed and simmered in stocks for the flavor, and then discarded.

Buying, storing, and cleaning mushrooms

When you buy mushrooms, avoid any that look broken, damaged, or wilted. If you intend to stuff the mushrooms, try to get them all about the same size so they will cook in around the same amount of time. Once you get mushrooms home, store them in the refrigerator in a resealable plastic bag and use within a few days. Never soak fresh mushrooms or wash them under running water, since they will quickly absorb the water and get soggy. Instead, when ready to use, wipe them clean with a damp paper towel. Some people prefer to remove the gills from portobellos before using. Dried mushrooms must be soaked, however, to reconstitute them.

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