Embracing the Mushroom

mushroomragout2

There was a time that I wouldn’t touch mushrooms. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even pick them off of a pizza; I would just reject the whole slice. If mushrooms had come in contact with my food, that food was no longer edible for me. A friend in college once served me mushroom flavored Top Ramen and tried to pass it off as a different flavor by dousing it with condiments. I took one bite and called her a dirty liar.

I was not allergic to mushrooms, and to my knowledge, I had no traumatic mushroom-related experience in my childhood. I just did not like them. If you replaced “green eggs and ham” with “mushrooms” in the classic Dr. Seuss tale, you would have an accurate depiction of my relationship with edible fungi for the first twenty-five years of my life.

“I would not like them here or there, I would not like them anywhere!”

mushrooms

People just could not believe that I did not eat mushrooms once I became a vegetarian. I have to admit it was pretty difficult. It’s hard enough to find a meatless meal in some places, and harder still to find one with no mushrooms. I had an issue with the texture. I know, I know. . . how I ate tofu but not mushrooms is a mystery to me too. I also had an issue with the idea of eating fungi in general. Large mushrooms scared me. Portobellos? Way too big. Scary. Nothing good can come from eating a fungus that large, am I right?

portobellopizza

But then, everything changed during the season that I worked at the GrowRVA South of the James farmers’ market. I volunteered at the Chef Demonstration tent with Chef Samuel Baker* from May through November of 2012. You can see my posts about that gig here on Vegology in the Market Chef section. I discuss a foraged mushroom called Chicken of the Woods in a late September post. This pricey little gem changed my mind about mushrooms. Sauteed in a pan with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, the bright orange and creamy white Chicken of the Woods mushroom tastes just like chicken, no lie. It was incredible, and I was hooked.

“I do so like green eggs and ham. Thank you. Thank you, Sam-I-Am.”

mushroomragout1

After consuming the gateway drug that is Chicken of the Woods, I started trying other mushrooms too. My next favorite find was the Maitake mushroom (“hen of the woods,” coincidentally) and that one is still a favorite in my kitchen. I gradually worked my way up to the mighty portobello, and fell in love when I had the perfectly prepared marinated and grilled portobello burger last summer. Now I’m unstoppable and I have made a full recovery from my fear of mushrooms.

One of my favorite recent finds was Tosca Reno’s Pesto-Stuffed Portobello Pizzas, pictured above in this post. This dish is fantastic. I served it on Christmas Eve with a wilted kale salad, and my house guests didn’t even miss the meat from the meal.

Another favorite is Terry Walters’ Grilled Polenta with Mushroom Ragout from the Clean Food cookbook, available for purchase here. Sorry I don’t have an Internet version of the recipe, but maybe Google it?

And, just one more, which is a little out of season but can totally be made on an indoor grill if it’s chilly outside. My favorite recipe for Portobello Mushroom Burgers. It’s all about the marinade!

I guess the moral (morel?) of the story is this: try new things. You might surprise yourself. And if you’re still looking for a New Years Resolution, that might be a good one to try out.

*Chef Samuel Baker is now working at The Betty on Davis in Richmond, VA and you can follow the progress of his food adventures on his Facebook page.