September 30, 2016
Vol. VIII No. 20
Photo of chanterelles and a variety of other mushrooms from Oldways Culinaria Trip to Normandy.
Mediterranean Mushroom Foraging
According to hieroglyphics from over 4,000 years ago, ancient Egyptians considered mushrooms the plant of immortality. At that time, people believed that mushrooms could provide super-human strength, help find missing objects, and lead people to the Gods. Due to the unique and delicious flavor of mushrooms, the Egyptian pharaohs wanted them all to themselves and even forbade commoners from eating them. 

Today, mushroom foraging is an important tradition in the Mediterranean, and even though mushrooms might not bring special powers, they still remain a significant part of the cuisine. In places like Catalonia, in Spain, where the climate is perfect for mushrooms, mushroom foraging is an enjoyable family activity for autumn weekends. 

Mushroom hunting takes practice, from knowing where to look to learning how to identify which mushrooms are edible. Mushrooms require certain growing conditions, and skilled mushroom pickers know which trees in the forest may have mushrooms growing at their base and, more generally, which regions in the forest are more likely to have them. Early morning is said to be the best time for mushroom picking if you want to be the first to find them. Autumn is the best season to forage for mushrooms, especially after a heavy rainfall.

While there are thousands of species of mushrooms, only a fraction are edible and an even smaller fraction are tasty. Some wild mushrooms are extremely hazardous or even deadly when consumed, so it's important to be well-informed. For those without access to the great outdoors or foraging know-how, foraging for mushrooms at the market can be just as thrilling, with a wide variety of edible mushrooms available.

Most of the mushrooms you'll find at the store are cultivated under controlled conditions, but it's still fun to imagine a time when they were all picked in the forest. Among the most popular types of mushrooms are white button, representing 90% of mushroom consumption in the U.S; crimini, or "baby bell" mushrooms; portabella, a larger relative of crimini; porcini, similar to the portabella; maitake, also known as "hen of the woods;" morels, the only mushroom harvested in the spring, and others such as shiitake, enoki, oyster, and chanterelles. Different types of mushrooms can function differently in a variety of dishes, whether in salads, pasta dishes, on antipasto plates, or as the basis of a hearty meal. 

Mushrooms are popular in Mediterranean cuisine for many reasons, including the health benefits they reap and the variety of culinary uses they have. Mushrooms are low in calories and also contain antioxidants and essential vitamins. They provide rich flavor and meat-like texture, which makes them a great addition to plant-based meals. In the Mediterranean, they are highly valued for their flavor in their own right, not just as a meat substitute.

Check out the mushroom recipes below to bring flavor and depth to your favorite grains.

Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipe.

This hearty pasta dish transforms a can of tuna and some vegetables into an impressive meal. It calls for a pound of any kind or mixture of mushrooms, allowing you to experiment with different types.

Recipe and photo courtesy of Positively Good For You

Steel cut oats give up their creaminess almost willingly, making them an ideal star for whole grain risotto. This rustic dish, featuring button mushrooms, pairs exceptionally well with seafood.

An Oldways recipe and photo. 

Amaranth cooked with dried mushrooms develops a deep, earthy flavor. Serve puddles of this soft polenta with roasted fowl or braised game.

Recipe courtesy of Lorna Sass, from Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way. Photo courtesy of Kelly Toups, for Oldways.

Starting tomorrow! Vegtoberfest is our month-long campaign to get YOU to eat more plants, and to share your personal story behind going "veg" for the month. Learn more by clicking the image below:

Fresh Fridays is a bi-weekly celebration of Mediterranean eating and living. We hope our Friday recipes will remind you just how easy and delicious eating the Mediterranean way can be.