Foragers, farmers market finders, and urban shoppers are alike in that they can all fully embrace the mushroom. Mushrooms are full of savory flavor, rich in texture and versatile in their cooking potential. Mushrooms easily act as an earth-meat in a plant-based diet. They are fantastic because they add grounding depth to a hearty dish and can be cooked in so many ways to illuminate flavor.
The trick to completing your savory dish is knowing what types of mushrooms substitute in meals that would traditionally use meat. Once you know which varieties compliment your dish, you can easily change out mushrooms in some of your favorite recipes.
The Portobello Mushroom
The portobello mushroom is known for its versatility in flavor profile, large size, and its fullness in texture. It is well known and commonly used in the plant-based community because it is both accessible and affordable! The portobello is fun because it can be eaten as a large mushroom or cut into smaller parts.
The portobello is ideal to throw on the grill or in the oven. It's easy to make into sandwiches or sliders, and even seasoned and eaten as a whole “mushroom steak.” The portobello mushroom is quite absorbent and picks up the flavor of whatever you marinate it in!
The portobello shines in its debut as an Italian style tomato, basil, arugula sandwich. It is refreshing as a patty on a pineapple teriyaki mushroom burger. It is also elegant seasoned with spices and peppers served as a main dish along with asparagus and mashed potatoes. The portobello has endless creative potential as it also serves perfectly as a vessel to be stuffed with delicious vegan cheese, quinoa, and veggies for a yummy meal!
Meat comparison: Steak/Beef.
The Shiitake Mushroom
The Shiitake mushroom is easily recognized for its unique cream color and delicate form. The shiitake mushroom can be found in most grocery stores and should be used when very fresh for best results. The shiitake mushroom is rich in its unique earthy flavor.
The Shiitake mushroom is often underused, mostly because the flavor is so distinctive. If it is used with clashing ingredients, people may not be able to appreciate its wonderful potential. Sauteing or sweating this mushroom brings out its flavor quality. Asian seasoning and fresh herbs or spices go a long way in complementing this special mushroom.
The Shiitake is perfect in a sweet-savory stir fry or pan cooked with a yummy soy or miso sauce with bok choy and rice noodles. The shiitake mushroom also holds its rich quality when lightly marinated in a char siu Chinese bbq sauce or a Korean bbq marinade. They are also delicious in Asian style soups such as sweet and sour soup. The Shiitake is also surprisingly incredible as a base for gravies during the holidays.
Meat comparison: Pork, duck or turkey.
Baby Bellas and Criminis
Although not much different from the Portobellos botanically, I think there is a notable difference in texture, shape, and size for these “baby bellas.” Typically sold next to Portobellos, criminis will look almost identical only much smaller in size. These delicious morsels are known for their intensely rich flavor and buttery texture. They can be eaten whole or chopped. You can also experiment with the width of your chopping to vary the texture and desired tenderness.
The baby bells are wonderful sauteed in a plant-based butter or olive oil, are good grilled, and can hold up structurally for a while in a soup, stew or sauce! Baby bellas are a go-to mushroom that can easily substitute in most recipes.
The crimini is best highlighted in warm sauce dishes. The crimini is fantastically rich and flavorful, cut or whole, in a veggie and mushroom soup or a mushroom bourguignon. They also work well in vegan stroganoff and alfredo. Enjoy them as a mushroom risotto or marsala along with a sweet root vegetable.
Meat comparison: Beef or chicken.
White Button Mushroom
The white button mushroom is usually a person’s first introduction to mushrooms. The white button mushroom is the easiest mushroom to find at your local grocery store and probably the most affordable too! The best thing about this mushroom is that its mild flavor allows it to be highly adaptable. But also its soft structure means that it cooks quickly.
There is not much that you can’t do with these little morsels. They are the usual mushroom you might find on a slice of vegan pizza or mixed into a marinara sauce, but there is so much more in store for these. White Button mushrooms are fast cooking, accessible, and delicious cooked in almost any way and are especially nice in mild or light sauces.
For an easy dish throw these on a skewer with some bell peppers, onions and zucchini and marinate in a light zesty dressing. These can also be enjoyed in skillet dishes with white wine or light veggie broth sauces. As an easy stir fry, you might add bamboo shoots, snow peas, mushrooms and water chestnuts. If you want to get really creative these are delicious when minced and thrown into wontons with some ginger and garlic.
Meat comparison: Chicken.
If you haven’t yet tried a chanterelle, you should really put it on your bucket list! Both rare and expensive these gems of the forest are well worth the investment of time and money. You may have to find a highly experienced local mushroom forager if you don’t live in a region where these are common, but you will probably be able to get them in the later fall and winter season. These are a beautiful addition to an elegant holiday meal.
They have a rich sweet and nutty flavor that is unique to them. Their range is a bit smaller for cooking so if you invest in these it is important to do your research and find a good recipe with proper instructions for cleaning and cooking them.
Chanterelles are amazing sweated and sauteed in vegan butter, garlic, and wine sauce, but really just a little oil or plant-based butter will bring out the best in these centerpiece mushrooms. The important thing with these is to “not gild the lily.”
Meat comparison: Crab.
Enokitake (Enoki) Mushroom
Enoki mushrooms are easily recognized by their long noodle like quality. Almost transparent in color, they will often be sold in a cluster. They are mild in flavor with a fun noodle-like texture. When in season you can find them in your produce section, but you can also find them at a farmers market or Asian market. They are sold dry or fresh depending on what you are going to use them for. These little guys are rich in nutrient density and vitamin content.
You can eat Enoki mushrooms raw, cooked, or lightly marinated, sauteed or steamed - the possibilities are endless. These are the perfect addition to east Asian cuisine! You might recognize them as the magic in your pho or the topping on your salad!
Enoki mushrooms are delicious in noodle soups like pho and ramen. They are great additions to stir fries, but noodle bowls would definitely benefit from these mushrooms as well! I think my very favorite way to eat them is to add them to a beautiful salad after they have been marinated and lightly cooked in a little sesame and soy.
Meat comparison: White fish.