The unbearable humidity of the monsoon season provides the perfect growing environment for mushrooms. These often-overlooked gems of the forest floor are a nutritional treasure trove; they’re low in calories, fat- and cholesterol-free and contain very little sodium. On the plus side (and a very big plus it is too!), they contain lots of protein, and nutrients like selenium and riboflavin in quantities that are optimal for the human body. And, of course, they’re delicious.
Mushrooms have been consumed since time immemorial. Many cultures believed that eating mushrooms could endow them with super-human strength; others valued them for their aphrodisiac and medicinal properties. Ancient Egyptian royalty believed that mushrooms bestowed immortality on those who ate them, decreeing that they were a ‘royal food’ and that that no commoner could touch them. Some people believe that Hindu, Zoroastrian and early Jewish people thought the mushroom could provide a connection with the divine; this probably had something to do with the fact that certain varieties of mushroom contain hallucinogenic intoxicants. Many varieties, of course, are toxic, and unsuitable for human consumption.
Freezing: Fresh mushrooms don’t freeze well. If you absolutely must freeze, first sauté in butter or oil; cool to just above room temperature, then freeze in an air tight container. Keeps up to one month.
Cooking: Mushrooms ‘sweat’ profusely when heated, shrinking in volume. A quick estimate: half a kilo of button mushrooms will reduce to about one cup full when sautéed.
Although over 2,500 mushroom varieties are grown worldwide, varying in taste and texture, we in India can usually find just four kinds in stores and markets. Here’s a quick look at each: