With an abundance of variations and flavours, mushrooms feature in wholesome dishes all around the world. By Bart Beek. Photography by Justin Field
Growing up as a child on a farm near Naracoorte, SA, hunting for mushrooms was a common early morning occurrence. When my brothers and I rose early to check the rabbit traps along the fences, our hessian bags also filled with beautiful fresh mushrooms.
I loved the aromatic bouquet that wafted from the kitchen, when mum grilled them with farm-fresh butter and freshly cracked pepper. Eating them, however, was another matter and it wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I accepted them as an enjoyable food in their own right.
Mushroom is a food that is suited to many methods of cookery and can be found in different cuisines around the globe. Choosing the best variety of mushroom for any particular dish is very important. The common white mushroom was developed from the strongly-flavoured Swiss brown. And when the Swiss brown matures into a larger size, its name changes to Portobello.
Just remember, the larger the mushroom, the bigger and more intense the flavour. The youngest and mildest in flavour are the small white buttons, which are tightly closed and vary in size. They are perfect for quick cooking or eating raw in salads.
Next stage is the cup, which begins to open at the stem, has a firm texture and a full-bodied flavour. It is most suited for stuffing and is amazing when sliced and added to soups and filled savoury pastries.
The final stage is the large mature flat, with its full intense rich flavour. It is ideal for strong flavoured stocks, sauces and braises. Flats are the best choice for flame-grilling on the barbecue or stuffing and baking whole in the oven.
Correct storage and handling is critical to maintain freshness and condition. Store in the lowest shelf of the refrigerator, loosely packed in paper bags, hessian cloths or in damp paper-covered cartons. Mushrooms need to breathe, so avoid storing in plastic bags, because they will sweat and become slimy.
When cleaning, do not wash them, instead simply wipe with a damp towel or kitchen paper. And there’s no need to peel them, as their skin contains much of their flavour and nutrition.
In this issue, I’ve put together a delicious breakfast dish of mushrooms sautéed with Spanish sherry vinegar. And the creamiest scrambled eggs you’ll ever make. Then, for lunchtime, try the quick and easy San Choy Bao, which is not just tasty and moreish, but fun for all to eat.
Try my version of the fabulous and world favourite Thai hot and sour soup – Tom yum! This uses a combination of baby button, Enoki, oyster and Shimeji mushrooms. Or, for something a little Mediterranean, I have a beautiful peppered Swiss brown mushroom risotto, laced with baby spinach and basil.
All of us have, at some stage in our lives, eaten the wonderful Russian classic beef Stroganoff. And here’s my version that uses beef fillet, which means the whole dish will only take 20 minutes to prepare. And, to complete the meal, the ginger and pineapple puddings with brown sugar syrup will have all critics raving.
Scrambled eggs with sherried mushrooms
Making scrambled eggs this way results in a creamy, smooth mix. It’s very important to add the salt at the end of the cooking process, because adding it at the start makes the eggs watery.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
To cook the mushrooms, place a heavy-based saucepan on the element and add in the olive oil and butter. Place in the sliced shallot and cook for one minute to soften and brown slightly.
Add in the sliced mushrooms and cook on high until well cooked and glossy. Then add in the sherry vinegar, stirring well to loosen the sediments.
Finish with the parsley and seasoning.
To make the scrambled eggs, crack three eggs into a non-stick saucepan and add in the butter (do not whisk!).
Place onto the heat and stir continually with a spatula. As it begins to thicken up, remove from the heat, but continue to stir. Gentle heat will give you more control and result in a smooth, creamy mix.
Once the eggs turn slightly thick, fold in the crème fraîche and add the seasoning and chives.
Present the scrambled eggs on toasted sourdough with the sherried mushrooms.
San Choy Bao
A Chinese entrée of chicken mince and aromatics served in crisp lettuce cups. Pork mince can also be used and the kids will love this dish, as it should be eaten by hand.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cover the dried shitake mushrooms with boiling water and stand for 10 minutes until softened. Drain, remove and discard the tough stems and slice finely.
Place 30ml of the olive oil in a hot wok and fry the pine nuts until golden. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.
Place the wok back on the heat and add the extra olive oil. Cook the ginger and garlic for ten seconds, then add in the chicken mince. Cook on high heat, continually stirring and tossing to break up the mince and continue until fully cooked.
Add in the Shao Xing sauce, oyster sauce and hoisin sauce, tossing well on high heat. Finally, add in the sesame oil, pine nuts, mushrooms, water chestnuts and spring onions.
Toss well, season and serve in lettuce cups with a small bowl of extra hoisin sauce.
Tom yum (Thai hot and sour soup)
This is such a popular soup, not just in Thailand or Laos, but all over the world. In 2011, CNN Go listed it at number eight on the world’s 50 Most Delicious Foods.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Heat a small saucepan and add the olive oil. Add in the sliced brown onion and sauté for three minutes. Then add in one sliced chilli, garlic, lemon grass stalks and the kaffir lime leaves. Stir well on high heat for one minute, and then add in the stock and palm sugar. Do not use a lid.
After it has simmered for ten minutes, strain the broth into a clean saucepan and add in all the mushrooms, tamarind puree and lime juice. Boil for 30 seconds and set aside.
Spread out four bowls and add some bean sprouts, sliced chilli and coriander to each. Check for seasoning of the broth, and then ladle some into each bowl.
Beef Stroganoff with Swiss brown mushrooms
It’s said that this dish was named after Count Paval Stroganoff, a nineteenth century Russian diplomat. Crème fraîche is a soured cream with high butterfat content and is less sour than sour cream. It is quite useful in sauces, because it does not curdle. I sometimes substitute chicken breast for beef fillet and chicken stock for beef to give a lighter dish.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Combine together the plain flour, sweet paprika and pepper. Lightly dust the beef strips and place onto a larger tray.
Heat a large, heavy pan and add 30ml of olive oil. Place half the beef strips into the pan and brown well, cooking them only for two minutes. Remove from the pan and place into a small bowl. Do the same again with the remainder of the beef strips.
Place all the browned beef strips together in the hot pan and add in the brandy. Allow the brandy to flambé and when the flames have all gone, tip the beef strips into a bowl.
Wipe the pan clean with some kitchen paper and place back onto the heat. Add in the butter and when foaming, add the shallots. Cook for one minute on high heat, and then add the mushrooms. Cook well on high for five minutes
Fold in the tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, stock and mustard. Mix well, then add in the crème fraîche and the meat with its juices.
Season to taste, add in the sliced cornichons and chopped parsley and serve with pasta or rice.
Peppered mushroom risotto with spinach and basil
Wholesome and real comfort food, this is a true winner every time. The Swiss brown mushrooms become rich, dark brown and glossy, while the spinach and basil add lightness and fragrance.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Heat a pressure cooker and add the olive oil and a third of the butter. Add the crushed garlic and cook for 20 seconds. Combine in the chopped onion and cook for several minutes, then add the sliced mushrooms and pepper and cook well.
Add in the rice and stir well, frying for two minutes. Add the white wine to the cooker and stir well, then add all the stock and bring it to the boil.
Seal with the lid, bring it up to pressure and cook on high for seven minutes. Remove from the heat, release pressure and stir in the remaining butter and the parmesan cheese. Stir in the basil and baby spinach and present in warm bowls.
Ginger and pineapple puddings with brown sugar syrup
These are fine-textured small puddings that take only 20 minutes to cook. The chopped glace ginger adds a tropical component and works well with the caramelised pineapple. These cook beautifully in flexible silicon moulds.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Pre-set the oven at 180°C. Peel and cut 5mm thick slices from the pineapple, then cut each to fit neatly into your non-stick friand moulds.
Combine together in a saucepan the brown sugar and water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and add in the pineapple slices. Cook for four minutes then remove and place a piece into half of the moulds. Divide and scatter the blueberries into the remaining moulds and drizzle a teaspoon full of the sugar syrup into each mould. Retain the remaining sugar syrup for later.
Cream together the softened butter and half cup of sugar. Slowly combine in the eggs until well mixed.
Sift together the almond meal, self-raising flour and the baking powder. Add the mix to the batter, and then fold in the sliced ginger.
Spoon the mix into each mould, filling two thirds full. Place into the pre-heated oven and bake for 30 minutes or until golden and cooked right through.
Serve one of each type warm with some of the sugar syrup and a spoon of whipped cream.