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How to get Insta-ready golden-brown mushrooms

Button mushrooms are the vanilla flavour of the mushroom world and there’s a whole universe waiting to be explored

(left) Secret ingredient mushroom soup; and stuffed button mushrooms.in air fryer.(Photos by Nandita Iyer)

By Nandita Iyer

LAST PUBLISHED 02.03.2024  |  09:00 AM IST

Nai kodai. It’s the cute name for mushroom in my mother tongue Tamil and translates to “dog’s umbrella". Being strict vegetarians, my grandparents and parents don’t consider the meaty texture of mushrooms as vegetarian. As it was not cooked at home, my exposure to mushrooms started rather late in life, in my early 20s.

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Later, I discovered button mushrooms are the vanilla flavour of the mushroom world and there’s a whole universe waiting to be explored. There’s no dearth of choice, especially in big metros. Loyal World Market in Bengaluru’s Whitefield stocks oyster mushrooms, shimeji brown, shimeji white, enoki and portobello varieties; Kaze Living, which delivers in the National Capital Region (NCR) has cremini and portobello. A couple of years ago, I tried the assorted box from Green Apron, which delivers exclusively in Bengaluru. They have the best range of exotic varieties such as lion’s mane, elm oyster, king oyster, pink oyster, pioppino and the shimeji varieties. An assorted box starts from 650 for 250g. They also sell the world’s most prized gucchi (dried Himalayan morel mushrooms, 600 for 20g), which is foraged from forests in the Himalayan slopes. The brand Food Library on Amazon has a few varieties of dried mushrooms such as shiitake, oyster and black fungus (wood ear). These dried mushrooms are rehydrated in slightly warm water for at least 15 minutes, then squeezed, chopped and sauteed. The water is full of umami flavour so make sure to use it in soups or stews.

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The best way to clean mushrooms is by wiping them with a damp cloth. If there is too much dirt, give them a quick wash with cold water in a colander and wipe dry thoroughly. A common issue home cooks face is that the mushrooms refuse to turn golden brown and glistening, like one finds on Instagram and in fancy restaurants.

Follow this very simple rule and you will be dishing out golden-brown mushrooms like a pro. Use enough butter or olive oil (restaurants never skimp on this) in the pan. Once the pan is hot, add just enough mushrooms such that each has its own space. This is mandatory to get them to brown instead of getting them to steam in an overcrowded pan. Adding salt at the time of cooking will make the mushrooms release water and turn them soggy. Season with salt once nearly cooked and golden brown.

Meatier mushrooms like portobello and shiitake lend themselves beautifully to slow cooking like braising. To braise mushrooms, heat oil or butter in a pan and sear the fresh mushrooms (whole, halved or sliced, depending on the size) in the fat at moderately high heat, until golden brown on the outside. Aromatics like bay leaf, sliced onions and garlic can be sauteed along with the mushrooms. Add a liquid like wine or broth to the pan at this stage to pick up all the browned bits, which is where the flavour lies. Season with salt, pepper, and herbs and spices of choice. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes until the mushrooms are tender. Serve as a side with rice, pasta or mashed potatoes.

Braising or slow cooking amplifies the savoury umami flavour in the mushrooms. If you are not one for slow cooking, then there are many speedy ways to prepare them. Enter the air fryer: Toss mushrooms in a little oil and cook in a preheated air fryer (180-190 degrees Celsius for 4 minutes) until golden brown. Add them to salads, wraps or sandwiches.

Speaking of mushrooms in sandwiches, one of the best I have had is the Smoked Shroom Sando at Neighbors in Assagao, north Goa. Stuffed with mushrooms flavoured with smoked paprika, this sandwich lives up to its name and is worth the rather steep price tag of 625 plus taxes.

Secret ingredient mushroom soup

Serves 4

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Ingredients

Quarter cup milk powder

1 tbsp olive oil

6 cloves garlic, sliced

400g mushrooms (mix or one kind), chopped

1 veg stock cube

Salt as needed (depends on stock cube)

Method

In a heavy pan, over a low flame, dry roast the milk powder until golden brown. Remove to a plate and keep aside. In same pan, heat oil. Sauté garlic for 30 seconds. Add chopped mushrooms and sauté for 3-4 minutes until almost cooked. Add crumbled stock cube and keep stirring until well mixed into the mushrooms, roughly for 2 minutes.

Let this cool. Add to blender along with 1 cup of water and roasted milk powder and blend to a smooth puree.

Return to pan, add enough water to thin as per your liking. Taste and adjust the salt. Simmer for 2 minutes. Remove to bowls and garnish as per your liking. Serve with crackers or garlic bread.

Stuffed button mushrooms in air fryer

Serves 2

Ingredients

200g button mushrooms

1 small onion, finely chopped

3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Half tsp chilli flakes

Pinch of crushed black pepper

3-4 tbsp grated cheese (processed or cheddar)

1 tsp dried mixed herbs

Quarter tsp salt

1-2 tsp oil

Method

Wipe the mushrooms clean and pull out the stems. Finely chop the stem. In a bowl, prepare the stuffing by combining the chopped stems with onion, garlic, chilli flakes, black pepper, cheese, herbs and salt.

Spray or wipe the mushrooms with a few drops of oil. Press 1-2 tsp of the prepared stuffing into the cavity of the mushrooms.

In a preheated air-fryer (190 degrees Celsius), air-fry for 5-6 minutes until mushrooms are golden and cheese has melted.

Serve hot.

This can also be done in the oven for a larger quantity of easy appetisers.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is The Great Indian Thali—Seasonal Vegetarian Wholesomeness. She posts @saffrontrail on Twitter and Instagram.

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