Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Recipe: Puffball Nuggets

Calvatia gigantia - Giant Puffball Mushroom
 Giant Puffball! So exciting and fun to find!!

And here is my friend Trish last year on our bike to DC, finding some:

And yet, with their marshmallow-like inside, the texture when cooked (sauteed) is not the best. Sort of mushy and lackluster...not really my favorite mushroom. 

That is, until today!

I found if you put the crunch on the outside, it doesn't matter so much if it's soft on the inside. In fact, it's better that way!

Because I am doing a vegan oil-free type diet right now (a la Forks Over Knives) I knew I didn't want to saute these in oil or butter. But what else could I do?

That's when the old noggin took over and voila, deliciousness was born. These are such tasty puffball nuggets I am hoping I find more out there this season!

Recipe: Puffball Nuggets

vegan, gluten-free, oil-free

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. Get two bowls. In one, put tamari (gluten-free soy sauce) and water in equal amounts. In the second, make the "breading."

Breading 1

  • rice chex-type cereal
  • nutritional yeast
  • black pepper
  • dried basil
  • dried thyme
  • dried parsley
  • dried cilantro

Crush the cereal and mix everything together. You can add or omit spices as you have them or to your taste. I did not put salt in because the tamari is salty.

Breading 2:

  • blue corn chips 
  • nutritional yeast
  • cumin
  • tumeric
  • dried coriander
  • chili powder
  • cayenne pepper

Again, mix and match spices as you like. I was kind of going for a Mexican theme with the corn chips. You can also use yellow or white corn chips, whatever. Crush corn chips (I used a spice/coffee grinder) and mix with spices and nutritional yeast.

3. Now, take your puffball:

  • Slice it 
  • Peel it (peel the outer skin away from the marshmallow-y inside, it easily comes off, but you can also cut it off if you want. I peel each slice rather than trying to peel the whole mushroom before I've cut it!)
  • Cut it into "nugget" or "finger" sized pieces

4. Take each piece and first dip into the tamari mixture:

5. Then dip it into breading:
6. Place onto a tray covered with parchment paper:

7. Bake 18 minutes, flip pieces over and bake another 15 minutes.

8. Enjoy!!! You will! They are so good!!

I preferred Breading 1:

While my husband preferred Breading 2:

Now... to find more giant puffballs!
Happy foraging!

~ Melissa

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Recipe: Sunchoke Soup

Digging up Sunchoke tubers is easy. They grow just below the surface and can ofen be pulled out in droves, without harming the flower patch at all. 

Sunchoke (Helianthus tuberosus), aka Jerusalem Artichoke, are a native plant that blooms in the fall. You will often find them on the side of the road, in fields and forests. The stems and leaves feel like sandpaper to the touch. Below the surface you'll find the knobby tubers.
These are delicious and were a staple in the diet of Native Americans and early settlers. This hardy, nutritious and delicious tuber can be dug from the ground year round, as long as the ground is not frozen solid. They store well in the refrigerator or root cellar (but actually store best right in the ground, so only try to store them for the months when the ground is actually frozen, around here that is January and February.)

The name "Jerusalem artichoke" is somewhat of a mystery, since they are not artichokes and are not from Jerusalem (it is a native American plant.) The theory is the Italian and Spanish word for sunflower is Girasol, which sort of sounds like "Jerusalem." And I suppose they do taste a bit like artichokes, though they are unrelated. Most people now have returned to calling them "Sunchoke" though you'll hear both names.

They can be eaten raw or cooked almost any way you can think of: roasted, fried, steamed, boiled, simmered.  

Here is a ver simple, easy way of making soup from Sunchoke tubers.

Recipe: Sunchoke Soup


  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 5 - 7 large sunchoke tubers, washed well, peeled half-heartedly (don't worry about getting all the peel off), and chopped (about 2 cups)
  • water or stock to cover vegetables
  • 1/4 cup cashews
  • 3 Tbsp nutritional yeast (optional, good if not using vegetable stock)
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil


  1. Saute onion in olive oil.
  2. Add sunchoke tubers and continue to saute, adding some salt, to bring out flavors.
  3. Cover with water or stock and let simmer until sunchokes are soft, about 20 minutes.
  4. Place in blender with cashews, nutritional yeast, sea salt and pepper. Whizz til smooth.
  5. Reheat and add more salt and pepper if necessary.
This soup is simple and delicious!!!

~ Melissa

Monday, October 17, 2016

October is A Month of Wild Abundance

Gem-Studded Puffballs

October is amazing when it comes to finding wild food!

The forests are full of delicious mushrooms including giant puffballs, pear shaped puffballs, gem studded puffballs, chicken mushrooms, hen of the woods, aborted entaloma (shrimp of the woods), blewits, honey mushrooms, lion's mane, ... what else am I forgetting? Parasol mushrooms, horse mushrooms, at a mushroom club walk on October 15 even chanterelles were found! Abundant!!

Just some of the mushrooms found at the Western PA Mushroom Club's walk on Saturday October 15
 Mushrooms aside (though it is difficult to put mushrooms aside - they are so delicious!), there are other delights found in October as well.

You might have noticed these gorgeous sunflowers blooming along roadsides or in fields and forests.

They are the native American sunchoke (aka Jerusalem artichokes.) Sunchoke (Helianthus tuberosus) are in the sunflower family, though this species is not known as much for its seeds as for its underground tubers (hence the species name tuberosus.)

sunchoke tubers
The tubers are knobby and funny looking, but they are delicious, abundant, easy to dig, and nutritious. They can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, roasted, fried, simmered. Ways to make them include: roast them alongside other root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, and carrots. Steam and mash like mashed potatoes. Saute with mushrooms (maybe some aborted entolomas or other wild mushroom). Make into a delicious soup (recipe will be posted tomorrow.)

black walnut in its green husk
Other October treats include nuts such as black walnut and hickory nuts. Now is definitely the time to get out and collect those, as well as acorns, which are falling off trees in droves this time of year. Unlike black walnut and hickory, most acorns need to be processed first to remove the bitter tanins. In the past I have boiled shelled acorns in repeated changes of water, but this year I am going to try a method described in Mike Krebill's new book Scout's Guide to Edible Wild Plants (due out November, 2016 and on which I was technical editor), where he blends the acorn meet in the blender, and then rinses the pulp until the bitterness is gone. I will report back in more detail once I actually try it.
kousa dogwood
You may have noticed these red balls hanging from some of your dogwood trees: this is Kousa dogwood, and the inside of this red fruit is soft, creamy and delicious.

Foraging is fun, and especially so in October! I hope you are able to get out there and find an abundance of wild food!

~ Melissa

Monday, October 10, 2016

Hot Wings from Chicken Mushrooms

Chicken Mushroom, Laetiporus sulfureous

Chicken wings were a big part of my teenage years. Even though Syracuse, New York is not Buffalo, my friends and I saw our fair share of hot chicken wings in the 80's.

I even worked at a fast food chicken joint in the 80's and learned the secret hot sauce recipe:
  • Hot: 3 parts Tabasco to 1 part butter*
  • Medium: equal parts Tabasco and butter
  • Mild: 1 part Tabasco to 3 parts butter
*now of course Earth Balance or another vegan butter replacement can be substituted to make it vegan

But all that was long lost since going vegetarian in 1987. And though I did not miss the stringy veiny chicken wings, that sauce....oh, that sauce.

Then I started finding vegetarian "chicken" wings made from seitan (wheat gluten) and I was so happy! They were delicious and all I could hope for. Except for the wheat. Since being gluten-free I've had to give up those and THOSE I dearly miss.

I don't know why it didn't occur to me earlier, but suddenly this was the year that I thought to use chicken mushroom and try to make those wings. Maybe because I never actually made wings or seitan "wings" myself before (aside from lowering wings into the fryer at the fast food place, then tossing them in a bucket to shake on the sauce. I've never deep fried anything in my own home.)

"You can use chicken mushroom in any recipe that calls for chicken," I've seen written and heard said.

And so....

Sliced Chicken Mushroom made into Hot Wings, with celery

Wonderful! Heavenly! Spicy nirvana!

I simply sliced and sauteed the chicken mushroom in olive oil (adding salt), then melted some butter (you can use a vegan butter substitute such as Earth Balance) and mixed in an equal amount of hot sauce (alas, we had no Tobasco at home so I used Frank's hot sauce), and tossed the mushrooms in the hot sauce at the end of cooking.

This is definitely a keeper.
~ Melissa

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Fall Mushrooms are Filling the Woods (and our Table!)

Fall is such an excellent time for mushroom hunting! The woods are full of blooms of delicious wild mushrooms. Yesterday and today we went out hiking and found a plethora of mushrooms.

Yesterday's haul:

Clockwise from the top: 
Hen of the woods, Lion's Mane, chicken mushroom, gem studded puffballs, pear shaped puffballs.

Today's haul:

Chicken Mushrooms and Aborted (or Abortive) entoloma

Yesterday we had fun thinly slicing and cooking up each mushroom one by one, to sample them all. We cooked them all the same: saute in olive oil and butter, with salt and pepper. 

lion's mane - Hericium erinaceous

lion's mane beginning to brown

gem studded puffballs - Lycoperdon perlatum
chicken mushroom - Laetiporus sulfureus

hen of the woods/maitake (Grifola frondosa)
They were all so different and delicious, though the puffball wasn't universally loved because of its lack of texture. However, cutting them thin and cooking until crispy made them very appetizing to me!

Today with our much larger haul of chicken mushrooms, I made "Hot Chicken Wings" (post to come), which is basically thinly slicing and sauteing the mushrooms in butter/oil (and steaming a bit with water, making sure they are cooked through.) When done cooking I added melted butter and hot sauce in equal amounts for spicy chicken mushroom "wings."

These we had on corn tortillas over mashed potatoes, topped with lettuce and tomato. Very delicious.

We will enjoy the Abortive entoloma (Entoloma abortivum) tomorrow!

Happy Fall!!

~ Melissa

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Recipe - Hen of the Woods Chili

Today I took a lovely walk in the woods and found a basketful of edible mushrooms. I will talk about what we found (and then sampled) tomorrow, but today I wanted to share a delicious recipe for Hen-of-the-Woods (Maitake) Chili.

Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa), also known as Maitake, is a delicious edible and medicinal fall mushroom. It can sometimes be hard to spot (can you see it in the picture above?) They are often found at the base of oak trees.

Today I found a couple of small ones which normally I would have left to grow, but I'm not sure when I'll be able to get back (or if I could find my way back to where I was in the middle of the woods!) so I went ahead and picked them.

Even though the ones I found were small, they were certainly enough to make chili out of! Here is one of my favorite chili recipes using this mushroom. Enjoy!

Hen of the Woods Chili (Vegan and Gluten-free)

  • 2 - 4 cups Hen of the Woods Mushroom, chopped into bite sized pieces 
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 chopped jalapeno pepper (or bell pepper if you don't like spice, or omit)
  • 2 chopped celery stalks
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • 1 can black beans (or use your own soaked and cooked beans!! Any kind you like for chili. I was being lazy.)
  • a bunch of tomatoes blended in your high powered blender, (or a can/jar of tomato sauce) - we still have lots of tomatoes from our garden! So I've been blending them in the Vitamix and cooking them down into sauce or putting in soups. With the vitamix you don't need to worry about peeling them :-D
  • 1 - 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • salt, pepper
  • olive oil, for sauteing
  • 3 - 4 cups water (or broth...I just used water.)

In a big pot: saute the hen of the woods, onions, garlic, pepper and celery in olive oil. Add some salt while cooking. I actually cooked the hen a bit first so it could release its water and cook a bit. 

Next add the spices (chili powder, cumin and basil).

Once the onions are cooked and translucent add beans, blended tomatoes, and water.

Let it simmer to blend the flavors. Adjust salt, pepper and seasonings to taste. Let cook at least 45 minutes to an hour. 

It's often even better the next day.

I served it over brown rice with a little hot sauce.

Enjoy!! :-)

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Hunt For Wild Mushrooms

This article first appeared in the East End Food Cooperator in August, 2012. I've added the pictures below.

The Hunt for Wild Mushrooms
by Melissa Sokulski
Morels, early spring

Mushrooms are an interesting entity: neither plant nor animal, fungi are their own kingdom and upon close examination actually have more in common with animals than plants. Their cell walls contain chitin, found in shells of crabs and exoskeletons of insects but absent from plants. Plants make their own food but like animals fungi digest their food with enzymes they produce. Fungi also take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide like animals, while plants do just the reverse.

Nevertheless, as a vegetarian I am comfortable eating mushrooms and wild mushrooms are a true culinary delight - a feast for the forager - if you know what you are looking for.
When my husband and I first decided to learn about wild mushrooms, we were extremely fortunate to stumble upon the amazing and generous Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club. We decided to go on one of their free weekly walks, open to members and guests. They meet at parks all over Allegheny County and beyond, there are now chapters of the club in Indiana county and Washington/Greene counties. Usually led by club mycologists and attended by experts as well as amateurs, this is a great way to learn about the fungus among us (I just had to!)
Chicken Mushroom
On our way to Deer Lake to meet the club one Saturday in August, my husband Dave and I promised each other that no matter what they said we would not eat any wild mushrooms. Wild mushrooms are dangerous, I proclaimed, mimicking the warnings of my herbal mentor who told me, “Native Americans didn't even eat wild mushrooms,” (untrue) and “The number one cause of death among mycologists is mushroom poisoning!” (also not true.) But apparently a promise made is a promise broken in our household because before long we were filling our basket with golden yolk-colored chanterelles, a prized culinary mushroom.
A member of the Western PA Mushroom
Group with his basket of chanterelles.

One mushroom expert pointed out the false gills of the mushroom, and further explained that chanterelles grow singly from the ground unlike the poisonous (but rarely deadly) Jack O'Lantern, a common look-alike which often grows in clusters on wood. “But sometimes the wood is buried,” he warned, “like an underground root, so you have to be careful.” Another distinction is that Jack O'Lanterns are bio-luminescent, they glow in the dark. I was beginning to learn that edible or not, mushrooms are endlessly beautiful and fascinating.
We got the mushrooms home and prepared them, slicing them and noticing the apricot smell. We sauteed them (most edible wild mushrooms need to be cooked or can make you sick) and were hooked.
Filling out the application to join the club, one question asked, “How many wild mushrooms can you confidently identify?” I confidently filled in the blank with a zero. The thought of being able to identify wild mushrooms daunted me. Now I can identify over thirty, from delicious morels to the deadly Destroying Angel, both of which do indeed grow in this area.

Giant Puffballs
The late summer into the fall is a great time to learn about wild mushrooms. There are a lot of beginner-friendly edible mushrooms to identify all throughout the city parks including the chicken mushroom or sulfur shelf (one of my favorites), chanterelles, giant puffball, black trumpets, lions mane or bear tooth, and the hen of the woods. The best way to learn to identify these mushrooms is by walking with experts like those in the mushroom club and attending their monthly meetings at Beechwood Farm Nature Reserve, which are also free and open to guests. Their annual foray is in September. There are walks and talks by experts, as well as a mushroom feast: dozens of dishes made with wild mushrooms by members of the mushroom club.

You can also find identification information and wild mushroom recipes on our website, Food Under Foot. Adding mushrooms to your foraging basket is as fun as it is delicious, and can be safe with care and knowledge. As I've heard many times from many people in the mushroom club, “There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old bold mushroom hunters.”

This article and all pictures copyright Melissa Sokulski