While mushrooms may appear to be a type of plant, they are classified in the Fungi Kingdom. Mushrooms are the “fruiting body” of a fungus. While we are most aware of the mushrooms we see at the market, another important type of fungus is yeast.
As mushrooms would appear suddenly after a rain, some ancient peoples thought they were caused by lightning strikes. Mushrooms have been collected as well as cultivated by humans for thousands of years. Large-scale cultivation may have begun in China during the Han dynasty (206 b.c. to a.d.9).
Not all mushrooms are edible. Of the edible mushrooms the most common cultivated variety is the mild-tasting, white button mushroom, Agaricus bisporus. More recently many more varieties of this mushroom species have become available including the dark brown crimini, the larger, firmer textured portabella, and the tiny, white-capped enoki. Other types of mushrooms can be purchased dried such as porcini and chantarelles.
Store fresh mushrooms in the refrigerator in a paper bag for no more than 2 or 3 days. They only need to be cleaned with a damp paper towel. Mushrooms are high in niacin and a good source of riboflavin.
Beat the chill winds of March by making the mushroom soup recipe below.
Mushroom Barley Soup
1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms or other dried mushrooms such as porcini, morels, or chanterelles if desired
1 cup boiling-hot water
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
3 medium onions, finely chopped
2 pounds white mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup medium-dry Sherry
5 cups chicken broth
5 cups water
1 cup pearl barley
8 carrots, sliced diagonally
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
In a small bowl soak dried mushrooms in the boiling water for 20 minutes, thinly. Transfer to a cutting board, reserving liquid. Discard stems of shiitake (if using) and thinly slice mushrooms. Strain reserved liquid through a fine sieve lined with a dampened paper towel into another small bowl.
In a heavy kettle (at least 5 quarts) cook garlic in oil over moderate heat, stirring, until golden. Add onions and cook, stirring, until pale golden. Add white mushrooms, dried mushrooms, and soy sauce and sauté over moderately high heat, stirring, until liquid is evaporated. Add sherry and boil until evaporated.
Add broth, water, strained mushroom-soaking liquid, barley, carrots, and dried herbs to mushroom mixture and simmer, covered, 1 hour. Season soup with salt and pepper. Soup may be prepared up to this point 4 days ahead (cool uncovered before chilling covered.)
Just before serving, stir in parsley.
Makes about 12 cups.