Make mushrooms your go to comfort food this winter

Mushroom amen

January can be a conflicted month when it comes to food. Most of us are ready to eat healthily after the festive indulgences but with temperatures plunging it’s tempting to curl up with your favourite comfort foods. Who doesn’t fancy a big bowl of spaghetti bolognaise when there is frost on the ground? So can you combine health with comfort?

If I’m watching my intake of red meat and too many heavy carbs, I make mushrooms my go to ingredient to make dishes that are satisfying and delicious and packed with plenty of vitamins and minerals that will boost your immune system and keep you healthy over the winter months.

Mushrooms are a great substitute for meat, they have a strong flavour and robust texture but are low in calories and virtually free from saturated fat. In addition, there are plenty of health benefits.

Mushrooms are a good source of B vitamins, copper, selenium and potassium. If they are exposed to ultra-violet light they can also provide vitamin D which is essential for good immunity. Just pop them on the windowsill in the kitchen and let them sunbathe on a bright day.

Mushrooms are high in fibre, which benefits your gut bacteria. Research shows that mushroom polysaccharides, stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria. While many foods break down with stomach acid, the polysaccharides found in mushrooms pass through the stomach unchanged and can reach the colon to encourage bacteria growth there. A healthy microbiome is linked to improved mood, which is much needed on the short dark days of winter. They contain beta glucan, which is a form of soluble fibre that has been strongly linked to lowering cholesterol and boosting heart health. 

Finally, regularly eating mushrooms may reduce the risk of cancer. A review of 17 cancer studies from 1966 to 2020 shows that eating just 18g of mushrooms a day may lower your risk of cancer by as much as 45%. Mushrooms are a powerful source of ergothioneine, an amino acid and antioxidant that prevents or slows cellular damage.

Here are my favourite comfort mushroom recipes to get you through the winter.

Mushroom, butternut and feta pie

Serves 6

4 tbsp olive oil

Pinch of chilli flakes

250g chestnut mushrooms, sliced

1 red onion, sliced

300g butternut squash (¼ squash), peeled and cut into chunks

75g kale, shredded

150ml vegetable stock

50g dried apricots, chopped

180g chestnuts, halved

75g walnuts, roughly broken

75g feta, cut into small pieces

4 sheets filo pastry 

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large pan and fry the mushrooms over a medium heat for 4–5 minutes until lightly browned. Transfer onto a plate and return the pan to the heat.

Add another tablespoon of oil and add the chilli flakes, onion and squash for gently cook 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the kale, stir in the stock and bring to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Then stir in the apricots and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the chestnuts, walnuts and reserved mushrooms, stirring well. Season with a pinch of salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper. Leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 190C/170C Fan/Gas 5. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Place one sheet of the filo pastry across the tray and brush with a little of the remaining oil. Add a second sheet of pastry at right-angles to the first to make a cross shape. Brush with a little more oil. Place the third sheet diagonally over the first and brush with a little more oil. Add the fourth sheet diagonally in the opposite direction.

Spoon the filling into the centre of the pastry and flatten into a circle. Scatter on the cheese.

Bring the excess pastry up around the filling, leaving a gap at the top, scrunching loosely. Brush the pastry with the rest of the oil. Bake for 25–30 minutes.

Mushroom and black bean chilli

Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil

1 red onion, thinly sliced

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 tsp hot paprika

400g tin chopped tomatoes

400g tin black beans, drained and rinsed

1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks

200g tin sweetcorn, drained

1 tbsp cocoa powder

450g mushrooms, roughly chopped

2 tbsp maple syrup

Heat the oil in a large, pan and gently fry the onion and spices for 5 minutes until softened, stirring regularly. Add the tomatoes, black beans, sweet potato, sweetcorn and 400ml cold water. Bring to a gentle simmer, stir in the cocoa powder and then cover with a lid and cook over a low heat for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C/180C Fan/Gas 6 and line a large baking tray with baking paper. Scatter over the baking tray and cook for 20 minutes.

Remove the mushrooms from the oven and drizzle with the maple syrup. Season with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Toss lightly and return to the oven for a further 15 minutes until crispy and sticky.

Take the lid off the beans and simmer the sauce for another 10 minutes until rich and thick, stirring constantly. Top with the mushrooms and serve with tomato salsa and guacamole.

Mushroom and chickpea curry

Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil

Pinch of chilli flakes

400g mushrooms, thickly sliced

1 red onion, roughly chopped

1 tbsp garam masala

2 cloves of garlic cloves, crushed

Thumb sized piece root ginger, grated

2 tbsp tomato puree

2 x 400g tins chickpeas drained

400g tin chopped tomatoes

2 bags of baby spinach

100g Greek yogurt

2 handfuls of coriander, roughly chopped

Heat half the oil in a large saucepan over a high heat and add the mushrooms. Season with a pinch of salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper and cook for 5 minutes until golden brown, then transfer to a plate.

Add the remaining oil and reduce the heat. Fry the chilli flakes, garam masala and onions for 5 minutes until soft, then add the garlic and ginger and fry for a couple more minutes. Add the tomato puree, chickpeas and chopped tomatoes, stir in the cooked mushrooms, then cover and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Stir in the spinach and yoghurt and season to taste.

Serve with roast cauliflower florets or cauliflower rice.

Mushroom ramen

Serves 6

6 eggs

2 tbsp olive oil

1 red onion, diced

350g mushrooms, thinly sliced

Thumb sized piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and grated

2 garlic cloves, crushed

3 tbsp soy sauce

1.5l vegetable stock

400g ramen

300g pak choi

300g frozen soya beans

Boil the eggs a saucepan of simmering water for 6 minutes. Remove and plunge into a bowl of cold water for a few minutes, then peel and cut in half, and set aside. Prepare the noodles according to the packet instructions.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the onion and mushrooms for 8 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic and soy sauce and stir for 30 seconds. Season with plenty of freshly ground black pepper, no need for salt. Add the stock and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the pak choi, and cooked noodles to the pan. Simmer for another 3 minutes until the vegetables have slightly softened. Serve the ramen in bowls, topped with the eggs and drizzled with the chilli oil.

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