Despite the fact that I spend five days a week cooking in a restaurant, and my thoughts around 8 pm on Friday night certainly turn towards the non-culinary, the most likely place you’ll find me on Saturday morning? At home in my kitchen. And I am almost always surprised at my sprightly enthusiasm for spending the majority of my free waking hours wielding a knife at the cutting board, a spoon at the stove. What is it that keeps me coming back, almost blindly, to cook another meal? I guess I feel like there is just one more thing I need to learn, some mystery to uncover in the next fold of batter, a discovery waiting under the skin of a single lentil.
This past weekend was no exception. Saturday found me curious and hungry, hankering for a hearty brunch dish, and a culinary adventure. My friend Elana got me to thinking about mushrooms lately, so I ventured out early to explore the market, which is all part and parcel of building the anticipation towards that first bite.
I was surprised to find everything I needed at my local shop, including a variety of wild fresh and dried mushrooms. I think they are just those things that I usually glaze past when I am looking for something else, but happily they do exist right down the street! I bet you can find everything you need for this recipe right at your local grocer too.
Mushrooms as Medicine
Mushrooms are an incredible group of edibles, as they are not only delicious and so versatile, but they are crazy-loaded with nutrition and powerful healing properties!
For one, most mushrooms have a fairly high protein content – often referred to as the “meat” of the vegetable kingdom for good reason. And despite their juicy richness, mushrooms are surprisingly low in calories – one cup of raw mushrooms contains approximately 20 calories (that’s it!!) and little to no fat. And because the small amount of fat that they do contain comes in the form of unsaturated fatty acids, they are an ideal food for those trying to lose weight, maintain a healthy heart and cardiovascular system.
All edible mushrooms contain medicinal qualities too, as most of them possess polysaccharides (complex sugar molecules) called beta-glucans that increase RNA and DNA in bone marrow where immune cells are made. The combination of compounds in mushrooms is believed to enhance the functioning of the immune system.
Three mushroom varieties in particular – reishi, shiitake, and maitake – have been studied extensively and are proven to possess strong medicinal properties. If you can get your hands on them (usually in dried form), definitely stash a few in your pantry – they keep forever and can instantly turn any dish into something exotic and health supportive.
A very interesting tidbit: all mushrooms have to be cooked to receive the nutritional value. The cell walls cannot be digested unless they are tenderized by heat, so cook ‘em up!
This recipe is totally flexible, so venture out to find some interesting varieties of mushrooms you’ve never tasted before – I tried a riotous mix of shiitake, beech, oyster, chanterelle, brown button, and crimini. Remember to look for dried mushrooms too, especially if you live in a region where wild mushrooms aren’t in season yet. I used a combination of both fresh and dried, and even threw in the run-of-the-mill brown button mushrooms just because I had some on hand. Happily, all kinds of mushrooms are buddies and play together quite well. Don’t make this more complicated than it is; use what you can get!
Wild Mushrooms on Toast
ghee, olive oil or butter
2 shallots, thinly sliced
11 ounces / 300 grams mixed mushrooms, (try including shiitake, reishi, or maitake) wiped clean
3 cloves of garlic – 2 minced, 1 sliced in half
¼ cup walnuts
a few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
freshly ground black pepper
1 or 2 good pinches dried crushed chilis
2 slices of toasted whole-grain sourdough bread
balsamic vinegar (optional)
1. Prepare the mushrooms: if fresh, simply wipe them off with a damp paper towel (do not wash them with water, as they will only absorb the liquid and get mushy when cooked). If dried, soak the mushrooms in lukewarm water for about an hour, until soft. Slice the lager mushrooms, leave the small ones whole.
2. In a large frying pan, heat ghee, butter or oil, then add sliced shallots. Sprinkle with sea salt and let cook on medium heat until the shallots begin to wilt and lose structure.
3. Add the mushrooms, making sure that they are not crowded in the pan (this ensures that the moisture that comes out of them can evaporate easily, and they will not boil in their own juices), toss a couple times to coat them in oil. Cook for a couple minutes, then add the walnuts, garlic, thyme, crushed chilis, some salt and pepper, and shake pan and leave to fry gently for 3 – 4 minutes.
5. When the mushrooms have browned nicely, add a knob of ghee or butter and a squeeze of lemon juice, and toss again.
6. Toast your bread until golden. Remove from toaster, and rub one side of each slice with the cut-side of a half clove of garlic.
7. Place toasts on a large plate and pile the mushrooms on top, sprinkle with extra thyme leaves, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, if desired.
This dish totally surprised me in its simplicity and palette-pleasing flavours. I know that I must be a little behind the time never having tried mushrooms on toast before, but I just never thought that something so seemingly basic could be so rich and delectably satisfying! In fact, I loved this meal so much, guess what was for breakfast on Sunday? Yup.
A glorious afterthought? Add a poached egg. Oh next weekend…hurry up and get here!
source: Haas, Elson M. Staying Healthy with Nutrition. Berkley, CA: Wiley, 2006.
Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Dietary Wellness. New York, NY: Penguin, 2003.