Incorporate more mushrooms into your diet

Two easy ways to eat a hefty helping of healthy fungi

"I'm going to run into the grocery and pick up some potatoes for dinner – it'll be quick, I promise. I'm just getting one thing." I made these assurances with the best of intentions but as I briskly walked through the produce section a sign caught my eye. Button mushrooms were on sale for 99 cents a box. I reflexively grabbed an entire flat, threw potatoes on top and zipped over to the checkout. My husband, who was waiting for me in the car, rolled his eyes as I loaded the large cardboard flat full of mushrooms into the car. "Just getting one thing, huh?" he chuckled.

Promises or not, there was no way I was going to pass up a deal like that. I've always loved mushrooms, even as a kid, whether they were in soup or on pizza. As a health-conscious adult, I value them even more as a hearty, low-calorie way to bulk up a meal. Sadly, neither of my kids have willingly eaten a mushroom since they were babies but that hasn't stopped me from incorporating them into as many corners of their diet as possible. What my kids don't know is that every time they eat a burger or a sloppy Joe or a bite of shepherd's pie they're also eating a hefty helping of fungi.

Some of that mushroom haul will go into a creamy mushroom bisque, but the rest will get simply tossed with olive oil and salt and roasted in the oven until they're golden and lightly browned. Once cool, they'll be packed up into a zip-top plastic bag and frozen flat, making it easy to break off a chunk whenever I want to include it in a recipe. Practically anytime I prepare a dish containing ground beef, I'll pulverize some of the frozen roasted mushrooms into a fine meal which is then mixed in with the raw ground beef, extending it while also adding nutrition, moisture and a deep umami flavor.

Mushrooms can also be finely ground in the food processor while still raw (I like to throw in a clove of garlic for flavor), then cooked in the microwave or on the stovetop until they stop releasing moisture and begin to brown lightly. Let the paté-like mixture cool before mixing it with the raw ground beef. Either method works well and is very difficult to detect by picky eaters. For one pound of beef I like to add one pound of fresh mushrooms, which usually cooks down to about 6 to 8 ounces.

There are lots of reasons to incorporate more mushrooms into your diet. Mushrooms are low in calories and have some nutrients including vitamin B, potassium, selenium as well as fiber. However, their real power is due to the presence of non-nutritive plant substances including polyphenols and carotenoids which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anticancer effects, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

I don't normally advocate hiding vegetables in kids' food because I want them to learn to love veggies in their own right, but I will admit it makes me smile inside when my kid enthusiastically devours a juicy mushroom burger. My wallet likes it, too, as it stretches a pound of beef into enough to make two meals worth of tender meatballs. And compared to most other food products mushrooms have an incredibly low carbon footprint, use relatively little water and require substantially less growing space which makes them a healthy choice for the planet as well as the dinner table.

Super-secret burger recipe

1 pound button or cremini mushrooms, washed and sliced

1 clove garlic

½ yellow onion, diced

1 teaspoon olive oil or butter

1 teaspoon salt, divided

1 pound ground beef

½ teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons minced parsley, optional

Six burger buns and sliced cheese, optional

Place the mushrooms, garlic and onion in the bowl of a food processor and grind very fine. Transfer this mixture to a microwave-safe bowl and add half a teaspoon of salt and the butter or olive oil. Microwave for five minutes then stir and continue to microwave at one- or two-minute intervals (depending on the power of your microwave) until the mushrooms are dry and no longer releasing moisture (You can also do this on the stovetop). Let the mixture cool, then mix it with the beef, garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce, remaining half teaspoon of salt and parsley. Divide into patties, then cook over medium high heat in a skillet or on the grill, about three to five minutes per side. Resist the urge to move or flip the burgers before they have formed a browned crust). Top with cheese and allow to rest for five minutes before serving.

Luxe mushroom bisque

2 tablespoons each butter and olive oil

2 pounds mushrooms, washed and sliced

Kosher or sea salt as needed

1 large onion or 2 leeks, sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup flour

1 teaspoon porcini mushroom powder, optional

8 cups unsalted chicken stock, hot

1 cup heavy cream

1-2 teaspoons lemon juice

¼ cup dry sherry, optional

Chopped parsley, to serve

Heat a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium high heat. Cook the butter and olive oil until it foams, then add the mushrooms, working in batches if necessary to prevent overcrowding the pot. Season with a pinch of salt and cook until they stop releasing moisture and begin to brown. Add the onions and garlic and cook until the vegetables are translucent and soft. Stir in the flour and porcini powder and cook briefly then whisk in the hot stock. Add the cream and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent sticking. Purée with an immersion blender if desired, then remove from heat and season to taste with lemon juice and additional salt as needed. Stir in the sherry, if using, and sprinkle with chopped parsley before serving.

Ashley Meyer

Ashley Meyer has been cooking as long as she has been walking. The daughter of beloved former Illinois Times food columnist, Julianne Glatz, Ashley offers a fresh, inspired take on her mother’s culinary legacy. Ashley studied winemaking at Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand and recently achieved the...

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