Last weekend, we packed our bags, and headed for a 4 hour drive up north, to the Mendocino coast, to attend the annual mushroom and wine festival. I’ve read about it so many times in prior years and always wanted to go. I finally saw an ad about a guided wild mushroom foraging tour, and I was sold on the spot.
I booked the tour a couple of months in advance, and that became the pivotal point in our trip. I had notions of finding all kinds of beautiful and unusual mushrooms that I’d only seen in pictures, and picking bags full of delicious wild mushrooms that I could later cook into various dishes. I imagined that I’d sample interesting mushroom specialties at the local restaurants, and buy unique mushroom gifts. As time approached, the kids got pretty excited too, inspired by my whimsical descriptions. We couldn’t wait!
I guess I should have done more research, and leave my enthusiasm aside. As it turns out we’ve picked the worst possible year for mushroom foraging. Of course it makes sense – after four consecutive years of severe drought in California, even the coast, where it’s always foggy and misty, is dried up so well, that mushrooms are nowhere to be seen! Even as our guide explains it’s a very bad year, and they haven’t found much, I still think she must be exaggerating a bit and continue to hope for the best.
Oh well, let’s just say, it was a nice walk in the woods 🙂 We didn’t see many mushrooms, and most of what we saw were tiny, poisonous ones. We learned that the Mendocino coast is really the place to go in good years, as it harbors over 3000 different fungus species, the most famous of all being the Candy Cap mushroom. This little mushroom is highly prized for its intense maple syrup-py scent, and it’s also very rare. In fact you can only find it in the Pacific North West, and only about 400 pounds are harvested annually. It’s mostly used for its aroma, and not so much for its taste, and we were later lucky to sample this local delicacy, turned into ice cream at Frankies, in Mendocino. It was really delicious, and tasted and smelled exactly like maple syrup! I only wished I could find dry candy caps to bring home and try maybe a candy cap flan, or creme brulee (mmm)…
The lack of mushrooms (not just in the forest but interestingly in the local restaurants too) only left me craving mushrooms even more than before. So when we came back home, I went to the store to buy whatever mushroom variety they had (wild or not). I could find some good looking oyster mushrooms that I combined with regular brown ones, and the first thing I made was this mushroom salad.
I combined the mushrooms with caramelized onions which is a classic combination, and added black lentils for some substance. The black lentils tiny pearls remain small and whole after cooking, and retain their bite, which is exactly what I need for this salad. They are also very pretty in this dish.
I mixed in a good amount of pine nuts and capers, and the salad turned out fantastic. The mild buttery taste of the pine nuts, combines really well with the earthy aroma of the mushrooms, and the briny, salty capers provide bursts of acidity, just enough to make the flavors pop. You can serve over a bed of arugula or other greens, or just eat it as is. I’ve even packed the salad as a school lunch! It has the kids approval stamp, so that alone makes it a keeper in my book!
For more mushroom inspiration, check out some of these faves:
Everyone’s favorite chicken scallopini with mushrooms and artichokes. This is the most popular recipe on the blog so far.
Here’s another favorite fall salad recipe – Roasted cauliflower salad with mushrooms and hazelnuts
Stuffed mushrooms in creamy pesto sauce. This one is a winner on many levels – it’s super delicious first of all, it makes for an elegant appetizer, and it’s quick to make.
- 1½ - 2 lbs medley of raw mushrooms
- 2 tbs olive oil
- ½ tsp of black pepper
- ¼ tsp of salt
- 2 tbs olive oil (for onions)
- 2 big onions
- ¼ cup dry black lentils
- ¾ cups vegetable broth or water
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- ¼ cup capers
- a splash of truffle oil (optional)
- 2-3 tbs of chopped garlic chives for garnish
- Clean, and cut mushrooms in small pieces. Saute in 2 tbs of butter with salt and pepper, until completely cooked (about two cups cooked mushrooms).
- Cut onions in rough dice, and saute in 2 tbs of olive oil, on low heat, until they caramelize and turn golden brown (10-15 minutes). You should end up with 1 cup of cooked onions.
- Boil the broth or water, add salt, and the dry lentils - cook for about 20 minutes or until the lentils is fully cooked without being mushy. It should produce 1 cup of cooked lentils.
- Assemble the salad by mixing the cooked lentils, mushrooms, and onions. Adjust the salt, and add truffle oil if needed. Mix in the capers and pine nuts, and serve over a bed of arugula, sprinkled with lots of garlic or onion chives.