Friday, July 19, 2024

Wild at heart: Mexico’s mushrooms have a long and varied history

There are a good number of edible wild mushrooms native to Mexico, found mostly in the cooler mountainous regions of Oaxaca, Mexico, Morelos, Mexico, Puebla and Hidalgo. The Mexica (Aztec) deity Nanacatzin (from the Náhuatl word nanacatl, meaning “meat”) was the Lord of the Mushrooms, responsible for making them suddenly sprout overnight. It’s no wonder, then, that hongos silvestres have a long culinary, medicinal and religious history in Mexico.

If you do come upon wild mushrooms in a market somewhere, be sure to ask the vendor exactly how to prepare them and follow their instructions to the “T.” Some are only used for medicinal or religious purposes — not for eating — and you want to be sure of what you’re getting before you throw them into a stir-fry or something.

For the most part, what we find here are the common white or button mushrooms, usually called champiñones. In the last few years, portobellos have become popular too, appearing on menus as vegetarian alternatives for burgers and in other dishes.

It was a surprise to me to discover that those little white mushrooms grow up to be big brown portobellos! And, in their “teenage” stage, they’re called creminis, or “baby-bellas.” As they mature, besides getting bigger and darker, Agaricus bisporus develop more flavor as well. Mexico is a big producer of these kinds of mushrooms, with the state of Guanajuato growing the most.

Mushrooms are a versatile source of umami, that elusive flavor component that just makes everything taste better and richer. You may be able to find more exotic varieties of dried mushrooms, like shiitake or oyster mushrooms, in Asian stores or sections of bigger grocery stores.

Mushroom in adobo
These mushrooms in adobo make great taco filling, or just eat them on their own with rice.

Mushrooms in Adobo

 Serve inside tacos or as an entrée with rice.

  • 1 cup sliced white, cremini or portobello mushrooms, or a combination
  • 3 dried guajillo chiles
  • 3 dried morita chiles
  • 1 medium white onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp. white vinegar
  • ¼ cup fresh orange juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin (or more)
  • 2 tsp. olive oil

Carefully remove seeds from chiles, then soak them in warm water for 15 minutes. In blender, process the soaking water, half the onion, garlic, vinegar, pepper, cumin and orange juice and blend until smooth. Set aside. Heat a skillet over medium heat; add olive oil.

Mince remaining half onion and sauté until shiny. Add mushrooms and marinade. Cook 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Classic Creamy Mushroom Soup

  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 lbs. mixed mushrooms (1kg), sliced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 cup dry sherry or white wine
  • 1 cup milk
  • 5 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme, if available
  • Garnish: Minced fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, chives), extra-virgin olive oil

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are browned.

Add onion and garlic. Continue stirring until softened. Add flour; stir to combine. Add sherry/wine.

Cook until reduced by about half, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan. Add milk, stock, bay leaves and thyme. Simmer on low for 20 minutes.

Remove bay leaves and thyme. Blend with an immersion blender or in batches using a countertop blender. Adjust salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh herbs and a drizzle of olive oil.

Coconut-Tomato soup
The touch of warming ginger in this Coconut-Tomato Soup makes it a great choice for colder autumn days.

Coconut-Tomato Soup with Shrimp and Mushrooms

  • 1 (14-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 (12-oz.) jar roasted red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 8 oz. mixed fresh mushrooms, cut into 2-inch pieces (about 4 loose cups)
  • 2 cloves garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced or grated
  • 1 Tbsp. lime zest
  • Salt
  • ¼ cup sliced scallions
  • 2 shallots, peeled and diced
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 (13-oz.) can full-fat coconut milk
  • ½ red habanero chile, seeds removed
  • 1 lb. large (tail-on) shrimp, peeled and deveined OR 1 lb. firm white fish, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • Steamed white or brown rice, for serving
  • 1 cup mixed fresh herbs, such as cilantro, mint, basil or dill

Process whole peeled tomatoes, their juices and roasted red peppers in a food processor or blender until smooth.

In large pot, heat 3 Tbsp. olive oil on medium-high setting. Add mushrooms; cook without stirring until lightly browned, 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and ginger. Cook 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Season with salt and a drizzle of oil. Add lime zest and scallions. Toss, set aside.

Pour remaining 1 Tbsp. oil into pot. Heat on medium setting. Sauté shallots until softened and translucent. Add tomato paste; cook about 2 minutes, until it darkens and begins to stick to bottom of pot. Stir in puréed tomato mixture, coconut milk, chile and 1 cup water, scraping to remove any stuck bits. Simmer about 20 minutes uncovered, until sauce reduces slightly. Season with salt. Add shrimp/fish. Cook 2–3 minutes until just opaque. Remove and discard chile.

Divide soup and shrimp/fish among bowls filled with rice. Combine fresh herbs with mushrooms and sprinkle atop soup. Drizzle with more olive oil; serve.

Chard and Mushrooms in Dijon Mustard Sauce

  • 2 ½ Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 small bunches scallions, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ lb. mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 lb. fresh chard, julienned
  • 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

Heat oil in large skillet. Sauté scallions and garlic for 2 minutes; add mushrooms, cook 5 minutes more. Add chard, cover and cook over low heat 5 minutes, till chard is tender but still crisp. Mix in mustard, heat 2 minutes more and serve immediately.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expatsfeatured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Instagram at @thejanetblaser.

Have something to say? Paid Subscribers get all access to make & read comments.
Author’s daughter celebrating Mariner’s Day with El Jardín school.

What I learned educating my child in a Mexican beach town

As more foreign families move to costal communities, ensuring access to great schools and educational opportunities is more important than ever.
A single mother drinking a beer while holding a baby

Mexican Boogeymen: The Mamá Luchona

The butt of many a societal joke, what exactly are mamás luchonas, and what on earth have they done to earn so much hate?
Hurricane Beryl aftermath art

Hurricane Beryl’s natural gifts for a batty botanist

The arrival of Hurricane Beryl on Cozumel showed one artist that destruction can reveal a natural beauty they had never taken the time to see.