Ask Peter: Mushroom alternatives
I have a severe mushroom allergy and as a “keen to learn” amatuer cook I find it frustrating when reading recipes for stews and casseroles that contain mushrooms. My question is can I just leave out the mushrooms and risk having less flavour or can I replace them with another veg?
There are few culinary alternatives that have or give the same effect as a mushroom in cooking, but there are many people who can’t eat them either due to allergies or simply because they don’t like the texture of them. What I like about this Fungi Kingdom is that there are estimated to be over 5 million different species – most of which are not edible – but it’s hard to get exact data on how many there are.
Mushrooms are actually the fruiting body of tiny mycelium spores and when they need to reproduce they produce fruits, usually popping up from the soil or a tree trunk, and these are the mushroom caps you buy in the veggie shop. The caps grow and when ripe they burst and spread millions of tiny spores in their vicinity – thereby making sure they will continue to survive.
Mushrooms of course come in many varieties – in Europe the trade of foraging has become big commercial business for many people as they hunt through the woodlands and fields of Britain, Italy, France and elsewhere in search of this wild and ‘free to grow’ vegetable that can be sold for a good price. We’re lucky in London as we import mushrooms from all over the world in fresh and dried form. It’s a lot more difficult in New Zealand to source wild mushrooms as few varieties are grown there, although I’ve seen that porcini (the Italian word for mushrooms that the French call ceps) have been found and occasionally pop up on Al Brown’s Instagram account.
In markets and stores all over New Zealand it is now much easier to source golden needles, enoki, shiitake and oyster mushrooms. It’s also possible to get dried mushrooms of many kinds – a personal favourite being the black trompette de la mort – also known as black trumpets of death. While these thin black mushrooms are perfectly harmless it’s those wild mushrooms that are deadly or hallucinogenic that cause many people to shy from eating wild mushrooms – and it’s a precaution well worth looking at. I love the fact that in Italy it used to be that any pharmacist would be able to tell you if a mushroom were safe to eat or not – which pays homage to the foraging life of the Italian peasant and wild foods being part of the fabric of the Italian kitchen.
But none of this helps you. If it’s simply mushrooms that you’re allergic to, and not moulds or fermented things, then tofu and tempeh could be your savour.
Tofu can be sliced thin and marinated in a light soy sauce and this can give the effect of sliced field mushrooms. If you were making a mushroom sauce then you could use these slices in that. The result won’t taste of mushrooms at all but the dish may look like you have. You can also chop or pulse blitz firm tofu into chunks and add to stews and soups.
Tempeh on the other hand, a really firm soy product, resembling a nutty nougat (but tasting absolutely nothing like it), has a flavour akin to mushrooms and a texture, if sliced thin, not too distant. It is however made by soaking then partly cooking whole soy beans before exposing them to a mould that produces the tempeh. If it’s moulds that you are allergic to though, then this won’t be for you.
If you’re wanting to make a smooth pureed creamy mushroom soup, then adding some tofu and soy sauce (if you’re ok eating soy sauce) to a vegetable base of sautéed onions and leeks, carrots and other root vegetables, before adding cream and some vegetable stock, could work well. If you wanted to make a mushroom sauce to serve with steak, then thinly sliced tofu as described above could work, added to caramelised onions with meat stock, brown miso paste and possibly a little crème fraiche and mustard added.
Tofu can also work ok sautéed with onions to serve with a bacon fry-up – and try to buy tamari (wheat-free soy sauce) and use instead of soy sauce as the flavour is more intense. Do check though, with all processed soy products, that you’re ok to eat them if they’ve been fermented.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes here.