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The Meaty Mushroom

How to use portobellos in place of meat in three new, creative ways

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It’s not exactly groundbreaking to use mushrooms as a meat substitute. By now, most restaurants offer vegetarian options that include mushrooms in place of prized proteins — like Shake Shack’s ‘Shroom Burger, made of a deep-fried portobello cap fully stuffed with cheese. But it’s rare to see them being used creatively. And I think it’s about time for a mushroom transformation.

You most often see portobellos being used as a meat replacer, and for good reason: these oversized mushrooms are thick and meaty. But simply swapping out a piece of meat for a portobello cap can hardly be called creative. And filling them with cheese and deep-frying them is just repulsive. The portobello deserves more than to be grilled, buried in a dish, topped on some other cut of meat, or stuck between two buns. We should be giving them as much attention as we do meat, not just as a lackluster swap-out. So why not slowly braise a mushroom? Or roast a mushroom? You can even marinate them like you would a steak.

I’m all for going meatless for a few meals each week, and with continuing research on the vast health benefits of eating mushrooms, I’ve been exploring their versatility more in my kitchen. I’ve chosen to focus on the oversized and beefy portobellos because they readily absorb flavors of whichever sauces or cooking liquids you might employ, just as any meats do. The thick caps are so filling that one or two would be enough per person.

To get started, try these eclectic roasted portobello tacos. Here, sliced portobellos are roasted, which allows the mushrooms to soften and lose most of their liquid while also becoming irresistibly browned. Topped with an exotic sweet and spicy sauce made from dried goji berries, cacao nibs, and cumin, the mushrooms are a flavorful addition to any taco.

Or try this Shakshuka, a riff on a traditional North African and Israeli dish where portobello caps are filled with eggs and topped with feta cheese, then simmered away in a spiced tomato sauce. It’s not an ordinary dish, but ultimately, is as warming as any other comfort food. Serve it alongside some warmed flatbread, like naan, perfect for dipping into the sauce and runny egg yolks.

And if you’re really dedicated to replacing your steak with a mushroom, you can do just that. Because mushrooms are like sponges, they take really well to marination. Portobellos absorb liquids particularly well since they have such large, thick caps. After combining the right flavors in a marinade, a portobello cap can really taste just as savory as a thick, juicy steak like in the mushroom steak recipe below. You can cook the mushroom caps in the cooking liquids, but I prefer to marinate the caps in a small reserve of liquid for twenty minutes before cooking to really let all the flavors absorb into the flesh of the mushroom. Serve alongside your favorite steakhouse sides and you’ll hardly realize you aren’t eating beef.

If you are looking to skip the meat from your meal, reaching for mushrooms should be a no-brainer. But think outside of your typical mushroom patty for your next meatless meal. Give any of these three recipes a try and you’ll be surprised what happens when you treat mushrooms like meat — in a good way.

Roasted Portobello Tacos with Cacao Chili Sauce and Cabbage & Lime Slaw

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In this recipe, the portobellos are sliced instead of whole and are roasted with a sauce rather than marinated. Although roasting the mushrooms helps develop their umami flavor, the unique sauce really makes the dish. If you can’t find dried goji berries or cacao nibs, try similar flavors like dried cranberries or cherries with unsweetened cocoa powder.

Ingredients

For the Cacao Chili Sauce:
2 tablespoons cacao nibs
2 teaspoons ground chipotle chili powder
¼ cup dried goji berries
½ cup warm water
2 scant tablespoons honey
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

For the Cabbage and Lime Slaw:
10 ounces cabbage, cored and shredded
1 tablespoon kosher salt
½ cup minced fresh cilantro
1 Serrano chile, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

For the mushrooms:
1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted, plus more for heating tortillas
1 ½ pounds portobello mushrooms, gills scraped out and cut into ¼ in thick slices
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
Small corn tortillas for serving

Instructions

To make the sauce, combine the cacao nibs, chili powder, goji berries, water, vinegar, honey, and salt into a blender and let sit for 10 minutes to soften the dried berries, then blend to a smooth puree. Set aside.

To make the slaw, combine the cabbage and salt into a large bowl and massage the salt into the cabbage using your hands. Let soften for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse the cabbage under cold running water and then drain through a colander and ring out excess water. Taste a piece, if still too salty, repeat. Put the cabbage in a bowl and add the remaining ingredients and mix. Set aside.

To prepare the mushrooms, preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking pan with aluminum foil and brush the foil with a little of the coconut oil. Mound the portobellos in the pan, and drizzle the rest of the oil over the top. Toss to coat and then spread them out in an even layer. Season with salt. Roast until the mushrooms have kicked off most of their water and begun to shrink in size, 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and drizzle 2 tablespoons of the sauce over the mushrooms, toss, and spread them out evenly on the pan again. Bake for an additional two minutes.

Meanwhile, warm the tortillas in a frying pan or in the oven. Serve the mushrooms on top of the slaw and serve with lime wedges, avocado slices, and sour cream.

Serves 4

Adapted from Becky Selengut’s Shroom: Mind-bendingly Good Recipes for Cultivated and Wild Mushrooms (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2014)

Portobello Shakshuka with Baked Eggs

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This dish is said to originate in North Africa and brought to Israel by Tunisian Jews. Today, it is very popular all across the Middle East and has even gained popularity in the United States. Deep portobello caps, buried in a thick and spicy tomato sauce, cradle soft-cooked eggs. To make this dish even more comforting, blocks of feta are melted all around the egg yolks. I’m all for eating this dish straight from the pan, using Naan bread for dipping.

Ingredients

For the spice mix:
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon fine sea salt

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3-4 portobello mushrooms, stems removed and gills scraped out
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 small yellow onion diced
½ cup beef stock
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 28 oz can fire roasted crushed tomatoes, with juices
4 large eggs
Freshly ground black pepper
3 ½ ounces Israeli feta
⅓ cup flat leaf parsley
Pita or naan bread for serving

Instructions

To make the spice mix, combine the ingredients in a small bowl and mix.

In a heavy 12 inch skillet, set over medium high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the mushrooms, stem side down, and cook until they start to wilt and brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Turn the mushrooms over and sprinkle ¼ teaspoon of salt and cook for an additional 1 or 2 minutes until browned. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

In the same pan, add 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onions and saute for 5 minutes until softened and add the stock. Bring the stock to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook until all the liquid is absorbed 5 to 7 minutes longer. Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, and spice mix and saute until the garlic is fragrant and the paste darkens slightly. Add the tomatoes. Increase the heat and bring the sauce to a boil then simmer for 10 minutes.

Tuck the mushrooms into the sauce, stem side up. Simmer for 5 minutes longer. Carefully crack an egg into each mushroom cap. Season the eggs with the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and a generous sprinkling of black pepper. Sprinkle the feta carefully around the eggs, but not directly on top of the yolks. Cover the pan and cook until the eggs reach your desired degree of doneness.

Garnish with parsley and serve with warm pita or naan.

Adapted from Becky Selengut’s Shroom: Mind-bendingly Good Recipes for Cultivated and Wild Mushrooms (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2014)

Portobello Steak

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In this recipe, marinated mushroom caps are served just as a piece of juicy steak. The savory marinade really flavors the mushroom caps. I used beef broth to add more of a meaty flavor to the mushrooms, but feel free to use mushroom stock or vegetable stock to make this meal completely vegan.

Ingredients

2 whole portobello mushrooms
½ whole small onion, diced
1 whole garlic clove, minced
1 cup beef broth
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp sherry
1 tsp thyme
½ tsp basil

Instructions

In a bowl, combine ¼ cup beef broth, balsamic vinegar, sherry, thyme, and basil. Let the mushroom caps marinate in the liquid for at least 20 minutes.

Line a large frying pan with a thin layer of broth. Add onion and garlic and cook for 2 minutes over high heat. Add the marinade, except for the mushrooms, and turn to medium.

Add mushrooms, cover, and cook for five minutes. Gently flip mushrooms over and cook for 5 minutes more, adding more broth as needed to prevent sticking or burning.

Plate mushrooms and spoon leftover juices on top.

Serves 2

Photos by Rachel Wisniewski

Alicia Lamoureux is currently studying Nutrition and Food Science at Drexel University. She enjoys cooking and loves the challenge of creating complex and delicious homemade dishes out of her small college kitchen. Her cooking motto is WWJD? — What Would Julia Do?

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