As a vegetarian, mushrooms have become one of the staples of my diet. They are plump and meaty when sauteed, deliciously flavorful when grilled, soft and silky in soups. Mushrooms transform omelettes into feasts, and veggie sandwiches into more than satisfying fare. Toss a medley of wild mushrooms onto a flatbread with fresh rosemary, caramelized onions, and fontina cheese and impress any gourmand.
I chanced upon the Ferry Building Fungus festival back in November, and was offered a variety of shortbreads and candies made with mushrooms that exude the buttery sweet smell of caramel. Mushrooms are diverse; at the same Ferry Building farmer’s market there’s one stand called Far West Funghi with mushrooms of all different shapes and sizes, most resembling either forms of underwater flora or the tentacles of alien creatures. I wouldn’t call mushrooms beautiful, but they are most certainly mysterious. For anyone who can’t leave meat behind, I dare you to try eating mushrooms instead of meat for a week and see if you aren’t satiated.
Robert Hass, my current favorite poet out of Northern California, meditates on the wildlife and horticulture of the region, often mingling his personal experiences with the landscape he reflects. This poem digs into both the mood of the foggy autumn day and the shadowy, musty body of the mushroom
Amateurs, we gathered mushrooms
near shaggy eucalyptus groves
which smelled of camphor and the fog-soaked earth.
Chanterelles, puffballs, chicken-of-the-woods,
we cooked in wine or butter,
beaten eggs or sour cream,
half expecting to be
killed by a mistake. “Intense perspiration,”
you said late at night,
quoting the terrifying field guide
while we lay tangled in our sheets and heavy limbs,
“is the first symptom of attack.”
Friends called our aromatic fungi
“liebestoads” and only ate the ones
that we most certainly survived.
Death shook us more than once
those days and floating back
it felt like life. Earth-wet, slithery,
we drifted toward the names of things.
Spore prints littered our table
like nervous stars. Rotting caps
gave off the musky smell of loam.
-Robert Hass, Field Guide
The pairing of mushrooms and scallions is a veritable marriage; the spice and delicacy of the onion combines perfectly with the depth of the mushroom. In particular, I find that portobellos and brown crimini mushrooms pair sumptuously with scallions. Here are two recipes that use both, one with a classic Japanese flair and one with a Mexican tilt.
Mushroom Udon Noodle Soup
I’ve had a horrible head cold and this, besides oatmeal and apple sauce, is literally the only thing I’ve eaten for five days straight. Adjust the amount of pepper flakes and ginger according to your liking, and even drop an egg in if you want a little extra protein.
- 1/6 a package of uncooked Udon
- 1/2 cube vegetable bullion
- 1 T soy sauce
- 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
- 1 T ginger, roughly chopped
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 5 baby bella mushrooms
- a handful of baby spinach
- 2 tsp aleppo pepper flakes
- black pepper
Cook udon in a pot of boiling water for 6 minutes, then drain and run under cold water and set aside. In a pot, boil two cups water. When boiling, add the veggie bullion and soy sauce along with the ginger, garlic, pepper flakes and mushrooms. When mushrooms are soft, add the spinach, scallions and noodles, stirring until spinach is soft (about 1 minute). serves 1-2
Portobello Mushroom Tacos
- One portobello mushroom cap, thickly sliced
- fresh thyme
- shredded white cheddar cheese
- Two white corn tortillas
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, diced
- hot sauce
- sliced avocado
- fresh spinach
- 1 lime
Sauté garlic in a bit of olive oil. Add the mushroom and thyme and cover; let steam for seven to ten minutes, or until mushroom is juicy and tender. On a separate skillet, melt cheese and scallions on the tortillas (better if you don’t use butter or oil but instead just put tortilla directly on skillet and cheese will melt). Prepare spinach and avocado, and assemble everything into the two tortillas when cheese has melted. Top with hot sauce or salsa of your choice and fresh lime juice. Serve with strawberry mint margaritas (see below).