Hunting for mushrooms is a lot like birding. In birding, there is often what is known as the “spark” bird, the bird that stimulates interest in birding or birdwatching for someone. It could be any bird, even common birds like blue jays or cardinals. I think morels are spark mushrooms for a lot of mushroomers…the mushrooms that draws people in.
There’s another birding term: nemesis bird, for a bird that is regularly seen by others but for some reason eludes you. For me this is perhaps the snowy owl.…there was one which dropped in to a farm not far from Pittsburgh this winter and stayed for quite a while. But by the time I heard about it and raced immediately up to see it, I missed it by a day. People saw it the day before but no one had seen it that day….it had flown back north. But really I haven’t tried enough for it to be a nemesis yet.
However, there is one mushroom that despite years of looking, of other people regularly finding huge amounts, I have yet to spot: the hen of the woods (maitake.)
Luckily Dave is able to find it a bit, so we have been able to get some and experiment with it. It is Dave’s favorite edible mushroom, and possibly mine too (close ties: chicken mushroom and morels.) It also stores well: you can fresh freeze it (simply chop it into the right size pieces and put in a plastic storage bag in the freezer. Don’t thaw before using, just throw it from the freezer into the pan or pot.) or dry it (it rehydrates very well for soups or chili.)
So far my favorite thing to do with it is make chili. The recipe I used below makes a delicious chili, though I did “cheat” and used a can of kidney beans and a can of black beans. Be a real pioneer and use dried beans that you soak and cook yourself! (or not…) I adapted it from a Giant Eagle recipe for Hen O’The Woods Chili, believe it or not. (Giant Eagle is a local supermarket chain for those that don’t live in Pittsburgh.) They actually sell hen of the woods in their produce department sometimes. So, if you’re like me and the hen is your nemesis ’shroom (or you’re not quite confident in mushroom ID skills yet) you may be able to find it in your supermarket and still make the chili.
Hen of the Woods Chili (Vegan and Gluten-free)
- Hen of the Woods Mushroom, chopped into bite sized pieces (I don’t know how much, how much do you have? Probably 2 to 4 cups chopped is good.)
- 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
- 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 it’s water and then cook a bit, but I think all together would be fine. You can add the spices now (chili powder, cumin and basil) before adding beans and water, and then add more if necessary once you’ve added the water, giving it a more “layered” flavor.) Once the onions are all 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. At least. It’s often even better the next day.
I served it over brown rice with a little hot sauce.
What was your spark mushroom? What’s your nemesis mushroom?
And now, I’m off to search the woods….maybe I’ll find a hen of my own. I just finished the rest of this chili at lunch…
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