The magic of mushrooms

Maitake and Buna Shimeji Mushroom Salad

These fungi pack a wallop in terms of health benefits and nutrients, and they're tasty too

I'll never look at mushrooms the same way again. Their health benefits belie their quiet humble looks.

Mushrooms bring a load of nutrients to the table.

Sources such as Dr Andrew Weil, founder of the Arizona Centre for Integrative Medicine, and the Mayo Clinic report these fungi to be a good source of B vitamins: niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, folate, vitamin B6, biotin, pantothenic acid.

Collectively, these vitamins may help to relieve stress, depression and fatigue. Furthermore, mushrooms are also a great source of dietary fibre and are low in both saturated and unsaturated fat.

Not so long ago, the only mushroom we could consume regularly was the dried Chinese (shitake) mushroom. Then the supermarkets started selling punnets of fresh white button mushrooms.

Today of course, fresh mushrooms are not only found on supermarket shelves but also at wet market stalls - and the range is wide.

Not just buttons but also portobellos, large and small, meaty thick- stemmed king oysters, fresh straw mushrooms and now, shimejis and maitake mushrooms.

The maitake mushroom, colloquially known as Hen of the Woods, looks like a flower - with layers of petals growing in a cluster. Its colour varies from tan to dark brown, depending on the amount of sunlight it receives.

Laboratory studies have found that the maitake extract is able to stimulate various cells and factors in the immune system.

Studies from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre have shown that it slows the growth of certain tumours and lowers blood sugar levels in animals.

More studies are being conducted to determine if maitake has the same effects in humans.

I like it for its intense, woodsy, smoky flavour and its resilient texture, which withstands even freezing. You can use it directly from the pack, if you buy the Hokto brand, available at NTUC FairPrice.

Hokto also markets the brown beech mushroom or buna shimeji - a clutch of smaller mushrooms - which has a nutty, buttery flavour, and a surprisingly firm, crunchy texture even after cooking. You can eat it as is in a cluster or you can separate them. But do use both types cooked, rather than raw, as they turn mellow after cooking.

The maitake, in particular, will crisp up at the edges if roasted simply with olive oil and salt and pepper, a pleasing finish.

For this recipe, which I picked up at Khao Yai, a wine valley north of Bangkok, I first boiled the mushrooms, both buna shimeji and maitake, before tossing them in a gutsy Thai-inspired spicy dressing.

Then I tossed them with baby romaine lettuce leaves, thickly shredded. The dish is good on its own and also nice with a Thai curry. Or, team it with a simple fried rice - little effort and lots of nutrition.

Rich in vitamins and minerals

Mushrooms are loaded with fibre, vitamins and minerals such as vitamin Bs, vitamin D, potassium, magnesium and zinc, said Ms Bibi Chia, principal dietitian at Raffles Diabetes and Endocrine Centre.

A cup of maitake mushrooms, for example, has all the vitamin D you need for a day.

Vitamin D is important for building strong and healthy bones, said Ms Chia.

Zinc, on the other hand, is needed for a healthy immune system. What is more, mushrooms are a great addition to meals as they are low in calories, fat and sodium.

If a person is on a 1,800kcal daily diet, having one cup of mushrooms contributes only 0.05 per cent of the recommended daily allowance of fat, she explained.

This makes mushrooms ideal for someone who is keeping an eye on his weight and fat intake, she added.

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION

Maitake mushrooms

1 cup (70g)

Energy: 22kcal

Protein: 1.4g

Total fat: 0.1g

Fibre: 2g

Sodium: 1 mg

Thiamin: 0.1mg

Riboflavin: 0.2mg

Niacin: 4.6mg

Vitamin D: 19.7 mcg

Zinc: 0.5mg

Magnesium: 7mg

Phosphorous: 52mg

Potassium: 43mg

MAITAKE AND BUNA SHIMEJI MUSHROOM SALAD

INGREDIENTS

1 pack of maitake mushrooms, cut off tough bits of stems and chop into bite-sized portions

1 pack of buna shimeji mushrooms (white or brown), cut off tough bits of stems and separate mushrooms

1 onion, peeled and sliced thinly

2 red chillies, use chilli padi if you like it fiery hot

1 bunch of fresh coriander, leaves only

A few sprigs of mint, leaves only

1 stalk of lemon grass, use white part of stem only, sliced finely

1 head of baby romaine lettuce, thickly shredded

Juice from 1 lemon

1 tbs of fish sauce

1 tsp of palm sugar

METHOD

Bring a small pot of water to the boil and place prepared mushrooms into the boiling water. Leave for a few minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon.

In the meantime, peel and slice onion and chillies finely .

Finely slice the tender bottom part of the lemon grass stalk.

Wash, then tear off the fresh coriander and mint leaves. Roughly shred the baby romaine lettuce.

Put boiled mushrooms, onion, chilli, lemon grass, lettuce, mint and coriander into a bowl.

Dress with lemon juice, fish sauce and enough sugar to balance the tartness.

Leave it for a while to allow the flavours to meld, then serve.

SERVES 3 to 4


This article was first published on September 1, 2015.
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