Mushrooms have been revered throughout many cultures as far back as Ancient Egypt. These furred-up fungi were believed to bring immortality and bottomless libidos. That must have been before the empire disappeared. In Chinese medicine, mushrooms were celebrated for giving super-human strength. Take that, Popeye!
Today, mushrooms don’t enjoy nearly the same level of prestige unless they are of the hallucinogenic kind. But many of these outrageous health claims can now be traced to a range of polysaccharides specific to mushrooms. (Scientists, look away now while I brutalise your language).
Lentinans and beta glucan polysaccharides for example are believed to stimulate the immune system by activating certain proteins, macrophages and T-cells. These white blood cells declare war on terrorism (pesky bugs and the like), and begin bombing the blood with their infantry.
In laboratory studies, the polysaccharides present in shiitake extract have slowed the growth of tumours in some cell cultures. But not in all cell cultures, highlighting the complexity surrounding their use. For now, I’m sufficiently excited to indulge in the fantasy of everlasting life while scoffing a bucket of wild mushrooms.
It’s argued that some of us have the genetic ability to become aroused by a mere whiff of certain types of mushrooms.
Phwoar. No wonder the forests of County Wicklow are feverishly descended upon this time of year.
Fall is shroom season, as they say in the trade. It’s best to go with an expert like Bill O’Dea to avoid picking poisonous ones. You don’t have to dress like an idiot to go shroom hunting, but Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall seems to think it helps.
For two people:
3 handfuls of various field mushrooms
2 long spring onions
a bunch of 100% buckwheat soba noodles
1 tablespoon extra virgin coconut oil
Up to 1 tablespoon tamari soya sauce
For the dressing:
3cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
pinch of chilli, dried or fresh (optional)
Slice the spring onions and larger mushrooms. Spring onions will look better wrapped among the noodles when they’re cut lengthways, rather than into tiny discs. Set both aside. You might find a few stray pieces of grass or dirt if the mushrooms are bone fide wild. Do discard these, unless you want to spend the evening with a toothpick.
Cook the soba noodles as directed on the packet. Normally this takes 5–8 minutes in boiling water. A quick dash of toasted sesame oil in the pot adds great flavour, but not essential.
While the noodles are cooking, heat a frying pan on a medium flame to stir-fry the mushrooms in a spot of coconut oil. Just as they deepen in colour – say, 4 minutes – chuck in a splash of tamari and enjoy the sizzle and splash.
Remove from the heat immediately, add the sliced spring onions, mix everything together and let it sit in the pan while you get going on your dressing.
Crush the ginger and garlic to a smooth paste in a pestle and mortar. The smell of freshly smashed herbs and spices will serenade your nostrils and do all sorts of joyous things to your sensory neurons. Once you have recovered sufficiently from the pestle and mortar excitement, whisk in the sesame oil and remaining tamari with a fork. If you have it, a touch of chilli or truffle salt should get your blood beating like a voodoo drum. Just make sure you’re not serving this to somebody inappropriate, like an unsuspecting in-law.
The noodles should be nicely cooked by now. Remove from the heat, rinse under cold water to stop the noodles from sticking, drain, and wrap with the ginger dressing. Tumble into the mushrooms and spring onions. Serve with a renewed sense of devilment and a mischievous smile.