The fall season brings with it tastes and scents of wet soil. Among the autumnal vegetables, mushrooms stand out with their delicate colors and irresistible beauty: firm, plump, and rounded. There is something about them that recalls Botticelli's well-endowed women.
Although mushrooms are available year-round, all farm grown, their natural season is fall, and therefore they are twice as good now. It is heartening to know that new varieties of mushrooms have flowed into the markets over the past two years, ones that have new textures and new flavors. In addition to the familiar mainstays Champignon, Yarden, and Portobello, the Japanese mushrooms Shimeji, Enoki, and Shiitake in its raw version have immigrated to Israel.
Shimeji: This very small white or brown mushroom comes in little baskets in a sort of bouquet. Shimeji has a tiny cap and delicate stem. It is suitable for cooking and stir-frying because of its sweetish taste and stable consistency.
Enoki: White and long-stemmed with a round and tiny cap, a bunch of Enoki looks like a clump of thin and crunchy hairs. It has a stable consistency and sweetish taste. It too is suitable for quick stir-frying.
Fresh Shiitake: The most nutritious of the bunch, fresh shiitake is known for its wondrous ability to strengthen the immune system. It looks like a broad umbrella, has a powerful scent, fleshy texture, and captivating taste. It's suitable for stir-frying and cooking in Asian soups, curry dishes, stews, and fish.
In addition to the Japanese mushrooms, Israelis can also buy Baby Portobello ("mini horesh" ), which is small and firm with a sweetish taste and stable consistency. It's wonderful in salads, for stir-frying in Asian dishes and enriching casseroles and stews.
The finest mushroom of them all is the King Oyster: As its name suggests, it is a delicacy fit for a king, with a wild appearance and wonderful taste. The mushroom stem is plump and edible, its texture is fleshy and smooth unlike any other mushroom. Of all these mushrooms it has the most dominant presence. Suitable for cooking in stews, casseroles, and risotto.
All these mushroom varieties can harmoniously join a broad range of dishes. Their secret lies in their easygoing character. All have a welcome ability to take on the flavors of the sauce joyfully, even humbly, without being disruptive and while blending in with the other ingredients. Their spongy texture is what does the trick. Beyond that, how you cook them and season them is more important than whatever variety you use.
Mushrooms are easy and simple to handle: lightly wipe the cap with absorbent towel and trim half a centimeter off the base of the stem that comes in contact with the growing surface. Mushrooms should never be washed because they absorb the rinse water.
The full range of mushrooms is available at the farmer's market at the Tel Aviv Port, at Carmela (deliveries from the Carmel Market ), supermarkets, and specialty produce stores.Hot salad of mushrooms & bulgur
Ever since the Shimeji mushrooms arrived in Israel I have been serving this wonderful salad every opportunity I get. It never fails to be the first salad to disappear at a meal. A real delicacy loved by all.
Ingredients (4-6 servings ):
2 onions, sliced into thin semi-circles
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 cup medium bulgur
2 baskets Shimeji mushrooms
1 basket Baby Portobello (mini-horesh )
1.5 tablespoons reduced balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 rounded teaspoon salt
50 grams grated feta cheese
In a big and deep frying pan or a wok add oil and fry the onion on a medium-low fire until dark brown. Stir periodically.
Meanwhile, place the bulgur in a medium bowl. Fill the bowl with hot tap water, stir a bit and pour out the rinse water. Repeat these actions twice more.
Drain all but 2 tablespoons of the rinse water. Set the bulgur aside for 20 minutes to plump up, giving it a stir from time to time. After 20 minutes taste the bulgur: if it's a little hard, add another tablespoonful or two of hot water and wait 10 minutes.
Once the onions are caramelized, turn up the flame, add the mushrooms and stir-fry 2 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and the spices, and stir-fry for 1 minute.
Add the bulgur and continue stir-frying for 5 minutes. Adjust the seasonings and serve hot with grated feta.