How I Learned to Love Mushrooms
A law student describes how she became fond of fungi. Plus our Won't-Miss-the-Meat Enchiladas will tempt even the most ardent mushroom hater.
Mushrooms. Candice Opper, a 32-year-old student at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago, grew up thinking of them as slippery little stealth bombs with a funky taste and flabby texture, hidden in everything from her dad's canned spaghetti sauce to her mom's tuna noodle casserole.
Even worse were "mushrooms fried in a ton of butter until nearly black and served with overcooked steak," says Opper, who attempted to feed them to her dog.
The dog, it turns out, "only liked broccoli," says Opper, who resorted to picking the fungi out of any dish she found them in: "A lot of my early mushroom memories involved canned mushrooms, which already had an unpleasant, overprocessed texture, or fresh mushrooms that had been cooked to death," she says.
Still, because her vegetarian inclinations led her to forgo meat for eight years, she was destined for dozens of mushroom meet-ups, prompting her to try -- and try again. Opper's conversion moment came during a restaurant meal when she discovered that "mushrooms tasted pretty good if they were properly prepared." First, she tried a vegetarian portabella-patty burger and thought it tasty. Next, she encountered stuffed mushroom caps, "and I was in love!"
Now, she can't get enough. "I eat mushrooms whenever they appear," sliced raw in salads, simmered in stews, tossed in stir-fries, or minced, shaped, and cooked like burgers. The bad memories of flabby fungi are just that: memories.
Cooking With Mushrooms
Although you'll find them in the produce aisle, mushrooms aren't really vegetables, but the nutrition-packed fruit of fungi.
Revered from ancient times by Eastern cultures for their health benefits, mushrooms may have several natural antiviral and immunity-boosting properties. Naturally low in calories and sodium and high in dietary soluble fibers associated with lowering cholesterol and boosting heart health, mushrooms are also mineral-rich in potassium and selenium. Findings from the American Institute for Cancer Research show that even the common "button" mushrooms have promising anti-cancer properties.
Among the other 'shroom varieties: enoki mushrooms, tiny, white dots on slender white stems, are sweet and crisp. Flat-topped shiitakes are rich and smoky. And black-gilled portabellas, which can be 6 inches or more across, are the most meaty.
Healthy Recipe: Won't-Miss-the-Meat Enchiladas
Need to convince a meat-loving family that a mushroom entrée can satisfy? Try these enchiladas.
For the filling, chop one large onion and 6 cloves garlic and sauté in 1 tbsp olive oil and 2 tbsp water until transparent.
Finely chop 8 oz each crimini, portabella, and oyster mushrooms.
Add to onions along with 2 tbsp chopped parsley and cook until mushrooms have released all liquid and are almost dry.
Lightly salt and pepper to taste.
Grate 2 cups low-fat mozzarella or Jack cheese.
Spray a small skillet with olive oil, and heat -- one at a time -- a package of corn tortillas.
Fill each with a few spoons of mushroom filling and a sprinkling of cheese.
Roll and place in baking dish, seam-side down.
Top with remaining cheese and heat at 400°F until bubbly.
Serve with salsa, pico de gallo, and fresh chopped cilantro.