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Home Plate: Know your mushrooms before you make magic

  • Wild and homegrown mushrooms clockwise, shiitake, black trumpet, lobster, and hedgehog.

    Wild and homegrown mushrooms clockwise, shiitake, black trumpet, lobster, and hedgehog.

  • Wild mushroom taco.

    Wild mushroom taco.

  • Pork and mushroom Siu Mai.

    Pork and mushroom Siu Mai.

  • Wild and homegrown mushrooms clockwise, shiitake, black trumpet, lobster, and hedgehog.
  • Wild mushroom taco.
  • Pork and mushroom Siu Mai.

About a year ago, I wrote about collecting and eating wild oyster mushrooms. Even though I warned at the top of the article that mushrooms can be deadly – that no one should collect mushrooms without knowing exactly what they are doing – and that anyone who wants to forage for mushrooms should first learn proper identification from an expert, my editor received an irate phone call from a man who was sure my column would wind up killing people.

So let me repeat: Know exactly what you are doing when foraging and eating wild mushrooms – they can kill you.

That said, what is it about mushrooms that inspires such fear? After all, there are many wild plants that are commonly foraged that can kill us. It’s also wise to be cautious around wild berries. Nightshade and yew, ubiquitous in New Hampshire, drenched in tempting red berries, are both deadly. Still, their presence doesn’t keep hikers from snacking on wild raspberries, wintergreen berries, rose hips and cranberries. I suspect the difference is in the ease of identification when it comes to berries – no one is going to mistake nightshade for raspberries.

Mushrooms are trickier, though, when trying to separate out what will kill you from what is wholesome; even experts sometimes make deadly mistakes.

Mycology classes aren’t always easy to find. And many of the mushroom guides out there are confusing and frustrating to use. Which is why I was so excited when, browsing in an Appalachian Mountain Club bookstore, I spotted a book I’d been longing for but did not know existed: Mushrooming Without Fear: The Beginner’s Guide to Collecting Safe and Delicious Mushrooms.

Its author, Alexander Schwab, lays out 5 rules for avoiding toxic mushrooms, beginning with “Never, never take a mushroom with gills!!!”

There are many mushrooms with gills that are delicious, but there are also many gilled mushrooms that are toxic.

On the other hand, Schwab’s book details a dozen gill-free species from families of mushrooms in which “there is not one deadly mushroom.” He promises that if you follow his directions to the letter, you will not take a toxic specimen, and that every mushroom you do collect will be delicious.

I’ve used his book to collect black trumpets, chanterelles and hedgehog mushrooms – all delicious, all easy to identify when following his instructions.

I have also started growing my own mushrooms using spores purchased from Field & Forest Products ( that I seeded into logs from my woodlot. Growing mushrooms on logs is more like planting berry bushes than raising lettuce – it takes a year or so before harvest, but seasonal flushes of mushrooms should go on for several years.

There’s a grand flush of shiitakes happening at the moment, although I have to fight the chipmunks for them.

If you’d like to take a guided walk with a mushroom expert, check out the “Mushrooms and Tapas” event this Sunday at noon at Tavern 27 in Laconia. The cost is $23 for tapas and the mushroom walk; $5 for just the mushroom walk. Call 528-3057 for tickets.

Here are two ways I prepared my foraged and cultivated mushrooms. The first is for creamy mushroom tacos, amazingly delicious for something so fast and simple to cook. The second, a classic pork and mushroom dim sum, does take some time to put together, but can be made ahead and frozen. Once made, the siu mai need to steam for only about 10 minutes before serving.

And if you are worried about safety, both dishes also would be delicious prepared with a mixture of whatever mushrooms you can find at the grocery store.

Mushroom Tacos

1 cubanelle or banana pepper

2 tablespoons unsalted butter or oil

1 small onion, peeled and minced

3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 small hot pepper, such as jalapeno or serrano, minced (with or without seeds depending on how spicy you would like the final dish to be)

1 large juicy tomato, chopped

1∕2 teaspoon salt

3∕4 pound mixed mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1∕2 cup crème fraîche (can be made by combining 2 tablespoons cultured buttermilk with a scant cup heavy cream and allowing to sit at room temperature overnight to thicken) or 1∕4 cup sour cream mixed with 1∕4 cup heavy cream (optional)

8 corn tortillas, warmed

Grill the cubanelle or banana pepper over a gas burner or under a broiler until charred on all sides. Set aside until cool enough to handle and then strip off the blackened skin. Cut open, remove the seeds, then chop into thin slices.

Heat the butter or oil in a large skillet over medium heat.

Add the onion and cook for a few minutes until softened.

Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes, then add the pepper strips and the chopped hot pepper and cook for a few more minutes.

Add the tomato and salt and cook for another few minutes.

Add the mushrooms and stir, then lower the heat, cover with a lid and cook for several minutes, until the mushrooms are soft.

Remove the lid and add the crème fraîche and stir. Allow to bubble for a few minutes to thicken slightly.

Serve immediately with warm corn tortillas.

Serves 4 as an appetizer, 2 as a main dish.

Pork and Mushroom Siu Mai

Siu Mai Skins (recipe follows) or purchased round wonton skins (you will need about 40)

Dipping Sauce (recipe follows)

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

half a small onion, peeled and minced

1 tablespoon oil

4 ounces mixed mushrooms, cleaned and chopped into very small pieces

1∕2 pound ground pork

3 scallions, trimmed of root and finely chopped (both white and green parts)

pinch of sugar

1∕2 teaspoon salt

several grinds of fresh black pepper

1 tablespoon corn starch (plus a little more for dusting)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine or sherry (optional)

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 egg white

Heat the oil in a large skillet, then saute the onion until soft.

Add the garlic and cook for a minute, then add the mushrooms.

Cook over medium high heat until the mushrooms are cooked and beginning to get just a little brown around the edges. Remove from heat, and pour the mushrooms into a bowl to cool.

When the mushrooms are cool, add the pork, scallions, salt and sugar.

Mix well. Add the cornstarch, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil and egg white and mix again. Allow to rest for about 10 minutes before proceeding.

Place about 1 rounded teaspoon of filling on the center of each skin, brush a little water around the filling on the dough, then pleat the sides around the pork mixture, pinching each pleat tightly to make the dough stick together and leaving a little pork visible in the center.

Place the completed dumplings on parchment paper dusted with a little cornstarch or flour as you work.

The dumplings may be cooked immediately or frozen on the tray, then when hard, placed in a plastic bag until ready to cook. They will keep for a month or so in the freezer.

When ready to cook, place a steamer (either bamboo or metal – it can have multiple layers) covered with a lid over boiling water to heat. Remove the lid, lower the heat a little, and place the dumplings in the steamer, leaving a little room between them.

You will probably have to steam the dumplings in batches.

Place the lid back on the steamer, turn up the water to a rolling boil, and cook the dumplings for 6 to 10 minutes, until the meat and dough are completely cooked. Serve immediately.

Makes about 40 dumplings.

Siu Mai Dough

11∕3 cups flour (plus more for dusting)

1 egg

1∕4 cup water

Place the flour in the bowl of a food processor and cover. Whisk together the egg and water in a cup with a pour spout.

While pulsing the processor, pour the egg-water mixture into the flour. Continue pulsing just until the dough begins to come together.

Turn out onto a clean counter and knead for a few minutes until smooth. Cover with plastic and allow to rest for at least an hour before rolling out.

When the dough has rested, divide it in two. Cover one half with plastic while rolling the other half.

Flour the counter lightly and roll the dough until it is extremely thin – you should be able to see your hand through it. Alternatively, you may roll it out with a pasta machine to the same thickness.

Use a 3-inch round cutter to cut out as many circles as possible.

Set these onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment dusted with flour and cover with plastic so they don’t dry out.

Repeat with the other ball of dough. You should wind up with about 40 circles. Use immediately to make Pork and Mushroom Siu Mai.

Dipping Sauce

1∕4 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon rice wine or sherry (optional – you may substitute water)

1 pinch sugar

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

3 scallions, trimmed of roots and chopped (green and white)

1 fresh hot red pepper, sliced (leave seeds if you like heat) or 1 teaspoon sriracha

Combine all ingredients. Serve in a dish on the side of the Mushroom and Pork Siu Mai.

Makes about 1∕2 cup.

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