Early spring finds the elusive, beautiful and delectable morel mushroom emerging in and around forest floors – just one of a number of varieties of wild mushrooms, including Chanterelle, Oyster, Maitake, and Chicken of the woods, that can be found various times throughout the year around Western Pennsylvania. While foraging on your own can be dangerous if not fully educated in the art of mushroom hunting, fresh wild mushrooms can be found at farmers’ markets throughout the spring, summer, and fall from seasoned foragers. With more than 65 family mushroom farmers in Pennsylvania, producing more than 60 percent of the nation’s mushrooms, you can also find farm-fresh mushrooms year round in your grocer’s produce section.
Whether wild or farmed, fresh mushrooms are incredibly versatile — and they’re great for you. Recently, researchers at Penn State reported the discovery of “unusually high” levels of health-boosting, anti-aging antioxidants in the humble mushroom. The amounts of these antioxidants vary greatly between mushroom species. Among the varieties tested, Porcini mushrooms had the highest levels. And although the ubiquitous white button variety has less of these antioxidant levels, it has more than most other foods.
There are myriad ways to incorporate mushrooms into your healthy diet. When simply sautéed in a little olive oil and garlic, mushrooms are fabulous on their own as a side dish, as a traditional accompaniment to grilled steak, or when tossed with pasta and grated pecorino Romano for a delicious main course.
As a meat alternative, finely chopped mushrooms camouflage as ground beef in hearty Bolognese sauce, or in these veggie burgers that will delight vegetarians and carnivores alike.
Black Bean & Mushroom Veggie Burgers
These adaptable veggie burgers are a delicious meat alternative for burger night. Play around with the seasonings and mix-ins to add your own twist: cumin and a little jalapeno for kicked-up southwest burgers; oregano, kalamata olives, and feta for Greek burgers; jerk seasoning for a taste of the islands…the possibilities are endless!
* 1 16-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
* 8 ounces fresh mushrooms (any kind!), finely diced or pulsed in a food processor until “crumbly”
* 1 tablespoon finely diced yellow or red onion
* 2 tablespoons finely diced roasted red peppers (or jarred pimentos)
* 1 egg, beaten*
* 1/3 cup soft plain bread crumbs**
* 1 tablespoon steak seasoning
* 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Place black beans in a bowl. Using a potato masher, mash the black beans just until they are the consistency of ground beef, leaving some chunks of black beans for a nice texture. Add mushrooms and remaining ingredients. Stir together. If mixture feels too wet, sprinkle in a few more breadcrumbs until the consistency of ground beef.
Form into 4 patties and place on a plate. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes to let the burgers firm up a bit before cooking. Burgers can be baked, pan sautéed, or grilled.
Bake: Place on a baking sheet coated with non-stick cooking spray. Place in a pre-heated 350-degree oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.
Pan sauté: Heat olive oil in a large frying pan. Cook burgers over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes on each side until caramelized on both sides.
Grill: These burgers grill best if placed in an aluminum foil packet that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. They can be easily flipped in their foil packet, which keeps the burgers safely intact and prevents sticking on the grill. Grill over medium-high heat for 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Serve with your favorite burger fixings!
* for vegan burgers, leave out egg and mix breadcrumbs with just enough soy or almond milk to make them soft but not soupy
** for gluten-free burgers, use gluten free bread to make your bread crumbs. Simply pulse in a food processor or finely dice.
To learn more about the rich history of mushroom farming in Pennsylvania, visit pamushrooms.com
If you’re adventurous and want to forage for wild mushrooms, locate a local mushroom club such as the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club.
Researchers at the Penn State Center for Plant and Mushroom Products for Health found that mushrooms have extraordinary levels of the antioxidants glutathione and ergothioneine that are believed have healthful, anti-aging benefits.