Wild About Mushrooms
The more you learn about mushrooms the more you realize they are the strangest items to grace our dinner plates. Fungi are neither plants nor animals, but their own kingdom. A honey fungus in the Blue mountains of Oregon is the world’s largest living organism, 2000 years old, and measuring 2.4 miles across. Mushrooms are actually the reproductive part (like a bloom or a fruit) of mycelium, a thready fungal web that feeds on decomposing organic matter and may even act as an internet, helping plants to communicate with each other.
The use of mushrooms in Chinese medicine dates back some 7000 years and Ötzi, a mummified alpine dweller from 3300 BC, was found to be carrying two species of mushrooms: one for fire-starting and one medicinal. The list of mushrooms used medicinally includes 270 species, about 100 of which are currently being studied. Cordyceps, (a fungus that grows on caterpillars), is reported to have anti-tumor properties and is being researched for asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, renal failure, and stroke damage. Reishi mushrooms’ beta-glucans can activate the immune system and may help treat lung cancer in particular. Turkey Tail extract has had some success in studies on gastric, colorectal, and lung cancer, and in activating T cells to fight breast cancer. Chaga, an unattractive mass that grows on birch trees, is purported to have immune and anti-inflammatory benefits as well as support liver health. Shiitake mushrooms are found to have a beneficial effect on immune system function. Even common brown crimini or portobello mushrooms are loaded with B vitamins, minerals, vitamin D, and a long list of phytonutrients.
Ready to put mushrooms to work? Here are a few tips for using them in your cooking:
Don’t rinse before storing. Store in the fridge in a paper bag.
Wash to remove grit, pat dry. Remove dry, tough ends.
Because they absorb everything from the soil, water, and air – good and bad – it’s wise to buy organic when you can.
Try different mushrooms. Many gourmet growers can be found at farmers markets.
To use dried mushrooms, soak until they plump and soften (about 20 minutes)and squeeze any excess liquids before cooking.
You can get small kits or larger amounts of spawn, cultures, plugs, etc. from Fungi Perfecti
Go foraging with an expert! Sacramento area mushroomers or Bay Area Mycological Society
Mushroom and Wild Rice Stew
1 cup wild rice 1 tsp. neutral flavored oil, like a light olive oil, avocado or a vegan "butter" 1 med yellow onion or 2 shallots, diced 4 celery stalks, chopped 12 crimini, shiitake, or wild mushrooms, sliced 1/4 cup white wine (optional) 3 cups vegetable stock at room temperature or water 1 cup (non-dairy) milk 1 cup chopped mustard greens 1 – 2 tbsp. yellow mustard salt, pepper to taste
Warm oil in a soup pot. Add mushrooms, onion/shallots, celery and sauté until glassy then add salt and pepper. Stir in rice, coating it with oil. Stir in wine if desired. Add stock and bring to a boil for a few minutes. Reduce heat to a good simmer.
When the rice is tender (about 20 minutes) add the chopped greens. After 1 minute, when greens are wilting, turn the heat off. Give the soup a chance to come down from the boiling point and stop bubbling. Stir in the mustard, and check/adjust the seasoning.
Stir in the milk to make this creamy and let stand for a few minutes before serving. Enjoy!