Though the idea of edible fungi that's good for your health may make you think twice, that's exactly what mushrooms are.
Oyster, button, cremini, shiitake, Portobello, morels and enoki – there is a long list of mushroom varieties that are fun to cook with and provide a number of nutritional benefits. Anything but boring, mushrooms are March's food of the month.
Health Benefits of Mushrooms
Often classified as vegetables, mushrooms are not technically a plant and are actually a member of the fungi family. In fact, its fungal properties are what give it some of its best nutritional benefits. As fungus, mushrooms develop natural antibiotics. As such, when mushrooms are incorporated into a healthy eating plan, they can help to improve your immune function as well. High in antioxidants, mushrooms are also known to have cancer-fighting properties. Providing protein and fiber, mushrooms have also been found to be beneficial for weight loss.
One of the key health benefits that separate mushrooms from most other produce is that they can help to increase vitamin D levels. There are very few vegetables, especially edible ones, that contain high levels of this crucial vitamin. Interestingly, mushrooms are similar to humans in that they produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.
How to Buy Mushrooms
While the rules for purchasing mushrooms are dependent on the variety, there are a few common guidelines that apply across the board. Cooking experts advise buying loose mushrooms rather than packaged. This allows the chance for you to inspect each one for bumps, bruises and breaks. Another benefit is that purchasing this way is also cheaper.
All mushrooms will have a natural dirt-like, earthy smell – this is normal. Do not buy mushrooms that are too dry, too moist or slimy or too shriveled. They should look fresh and healthy and feel firm to the touch. All mushroom caps should be firmly in place as well. If there is a sour or even fishy smell, the mushrooms have gone bad.
How to Store and Prepare Mushrooms
It's important to remember that mushrooms do not have a very long shelf life. Due to their properties and moisture content, storing them together in tightly sealed areas will only fasten the process of molding. It's best to keep mushrooms in an open bag in a main part of your refrigerator – not in a closed drawer. This can allow the mushrooms to breathe and stay fresh and firm longer. Still, no matter how you store them, mushrooms are best when used within the first several days of purchase.
Mushrooms do not do well when rinsed under running water like fruits and vegetables. They easily soak up liquid and as such, you are better off gently wiping them down with a cloth before cooking. This helps to get all of the dirt off the mushrooms. Once cleaned, you can slice, dice or chop your mushrooms however your recipe calls for. The options for cooking mushrooms range from roasting and sauteeing to breading and baking. You can even grill mushrooms for more flavor!
How to Eat Mushrooms
What's great about mushrooms is their versatility, which lends well to cooking. For example, the chanterelle mushroom is very flavorful with notes of spice and fruit while the Portobello mushroom is more bland in flavor, yet heartier in texture, according to The Huffington Post. Still others, such as the enoki, are great for topping salads and soups as they are nice and crisp with a light flavor. The variety in texture, taste and growth are what make mushrooms so much fun to cook with.
At Pritikin, we have a library of mushroom recipes that is quite extensive – so there's no way you'll ever get bored of cooking with this vitamin D-rich fungi!
Potato, Spinach and Wild Mushroom Ragout
For a real Pritikin mushroom favorite, give this hearty and flavorful ragout a try.
- 4 red bliss potato, cleaned and chopped
- 1/3 cup chopped shallots
- 1/3 cup roasted garlic puree
- 1/3 bunch thyme, picked and chopped
- 2/3 cup shiitake mushrooms
- 2/3 cup oyster mushrooms
- 2/3 cup domestic mushrooms
- 2/3 cup red wine
- Dash black peppercorns ground
- Dash of salt
- 2/3 pound spinach
- 1/3 bunch basil chiffon aide
- Steam chopped potatoes and then let cool.
- In a large skillet pan over medium-high heat, saute shallots, garlic puree, thyme, shiitake mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and domestic mushrooms, until browned.
- Add potatoes, red wine, black peppercorns and salt.
- Reduce heat to low and add spinach and basil.
- Serve warm and enjoy!