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A Fungus Among Us: Mushrooms for Health

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Neither plant nor animal, mushrooms are classified as fungi. Mushrooms pop up in forests at certain times of year in various places all over the world and then disappear completely without warning. Ancient Egyptians believed that mushrooms paved a path to immortality and they were considered food for royalty only.

The most commonly cultivated mushroom in the United States is the white button mushroom and topping the exotic list are truffles that sell for $1,000 to $1,500 per pound.

Mushrooms are high in the B vitamins, riboflavin and niacin, which promote healthy skin and good vision and ensure that the digestive and nervous systems function, as they should. Mushrooms are an important source of potassium; in fact, one medium-sized portabella contains more than a banana. Mushrooms also contain essential minerals including selenium, pantothenic acid, and copper, all of which work to keep the body healthy.

Scientists believe that extracts of various mushrooms could be very beneficial in the treatment and prevention of cancer, including white mushrooms for breast cancer, and shiitake and maitake mushrooms for prostate cancer. Still more laboratory studies suggest that a mushroom extract may help prevent heart disease by reducing blood lipids and cholesterol levels.

In the past thirty years, the variety of cultivated mushrooms has greatly increased and as a result, there are a lot more choices offered the grocery store. Along with the standard white button mushroom, cremeni, oyster, shitake, Portobello, and enoki are varieties found fresh in most produce sections. Some other varieties, such as porcini, chanterelle, and morel are commonly available dried. With awesome selection and great flavors, it is really quite simple to have a “fungus among us” at your family meals.

Age to introduce: Twelve to eighteen months

Toddler Treat: Shroomy Stroganoff 

This is a perfect meal for a cold fall or winter day. Instead using sliced mushrooms, we recommend diced (or chopped). Not only are the smaller pieces easier to maneuver on a fork or spoon, they are less “suspect” looking to the skeptical toddler eye. Enjoy!

2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 pound diced fresh white mushrooms
1/3 cup low sodium beef or vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1 cup sour cream (dairy or soy)
Salt and pepper to taste
Cooked rice or egg noodles

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the diced mushrooms and stir constantly for about five minutes. Add the beef or vegetable stock and dill. Continue cooking about four more minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Turn the heat down to low and add the sour cream. Gently stir until heated through; but do not allow it to boil. Serve over cooked rice or egg noodles. Makes eight kid-sized servings or four adult servings.
Tip: Freeze small portions for quick defrost, heat, and serve meals.

Mushrooms for the Family
At the market:
Many varieties of fresh mushrooms are available year round. In general, look for firm, unblemished caps. The mushroom’s surface should be free from moisture but not look dry. Avoid mushrooms with any sign of mold. If you are using dried mushrooms as a substitute for fresh then 1 pound of fresh mushrooms equals two to three ounces dried.

Storage: Always refrigerate mushrooms. Loose mushrooms keep well in paper bags in the refrigerator. Avoid airtight plastic bags because they will cause the mushrooms to spoil faster. Properly stored, fresh mushrooms will keep for about five days.

Preparation: To prepare fresh mushrooms, first trim off the bottoms of the stems, and then wipe them off with a paper or cotton towel. Don’t use water to clean mushrooms, they’ll absorb it and turn mushy when you cook them.

The stems of shiitake mushrooms and the root end of portabella stems are often tough and should be discarded, but all other mushroom stems can be trimmed and used along with the caps.

Dried mushrooms are often excellent substitutes for fresh. To use dried mushrooms, they need to be reconstituted which is easily done by soaking or simmering them in water. Don’t throw out the soaking liquid—it can add more flavor to your recipe than the mushrooms themselves.

Here are some quick ideas to add mushrooms into your family meals:

Simple Sautéed Mushrooms: Many main dishes taste so much better with a simple side of sautéed mushrooms. Try to basic recipe or take it to another level with one of our variation suggestions.

Basic recipe: Slice eight ounces of mushrooms (any variety or a mixture). In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil or butter over medium-high heat, and add the mushrooms to the skillet all at once. Cook, stirring occasionally until mushrooms are tender, liquid evaporates and they begin to brown, about six minutes. Salt and pepper, to taste.

Variations: About two minutes before the mushrooms are done cooking add:
Tex-Mex: Add 3 tablespoons cilantro, 1 tablespoon limejuice, and 1 tablespoon chopped green onions
Thai: Add 1/3 cup Thai peanut stir-fry and dipping sauce
Italian: Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1-3 tablespoon chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon garlic salt, and 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
French: 1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence and 1 tablespoon butter
Japanese: 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, and 1 teaspoon soy sauce
Shroomed Up Stews: Add a whole white button mushrooms to your favorite stew recipe. The whole mushrooms will add a great look to the dish. They’ll also absorb the flavors of the gravy and taste fantastic.

Great Grilled shitakes: Shitakes mushrooms are popular in Asian cooking. They have a terrific smoky taste and are great grilled on the bbq or in a grill pan. For easy flipping, run a skewer through a few of them. Then baste them with a little teriyaki glaze and grill them for two to three minutes per side.

Enoki in your salad: Popular in Japan, Enokis are just too cute and very easy to use. They are sold in clusters and you just trim off the base, separate them and add them to salads. Give them a try with your favorite green salad, simply top the salad with a 3 1/2 ounce package of enoki mushrooms, and toss the salad with your favorite dressing.

Authentic Stir-Fry: The Chinese use straw mushrooms quite often in cooking. They are not commonly available fresh, but they can easily be found canned. Next time you are making a stir-fry, get a more authentic taste and use straw mushrooms (drain the liquid from the can before using them).

Mixed Mushroom Casserole: This casserole is great way to try different mushroom varieties. And it’s a great side dish for company, because it can be made in advance. Heat a large skillet with 2 tablespoon of oil at medium high heat. Add 1 pound mushrooms (sliced and chopped into about the bite-sized pieces), 1 chopped onion, and 1 cup chicken broth to the skillet. Add 1 teaspoon each of thyme, basil, and oregano. Add the juice of 1/2 lemon and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce liquid by about half. Turn mixture into an ovenproof casserole dish and top with 1/2 cup breadcrumbs; dot with butter. Bake at 350 degrees for twenty minutes.


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