From the buzz around the Fantastic Fungi documentary to the portobello mushroom burger craze, mushrooms have been a popular topic of discussion. And the morel of the story is that no matter what mushroom you try, you will experience some benefits, particularly for your gut health.
With that being said, an underrated yet tasty type of mushroom is the morel. A 2022 study found that thanks to its antioxidant and antibacterial properties, the moral mushroom improves our cardiovascular health and immune system.
But what exactly is the morel, how do you find it, and how can you add this tasty mushroom to your diet?
The Morel: Nature’s Mystery Mushroom
With its thick, somewhat crooked stem and a cone-shaped top that resembles the crinkled nooks of a walnut shell, a morel mushroom is an unusual find in the woods. It is also a highly sought after delicacy among even those who would not consider themselves connoisseurs of mushrooms.
They have a robust nutty, almost smoky flavor that can be eaten raw, sautéed, or grilled. They are an excellent addition to soup, stew, and sauces, as well as pasta or rice dishes. Morels can also be dried or frozen for later use.
To help you learn the basics, here’s a rapid fire briefing on morels:
- Morel Colors: Gray, Black, Yellow
- Common Locations: Around decaying or dead trees and bark, in mulch, old orchards
- Growing Season: Typically spring, as the weather warms and after a period of rain. Depending on your geographic location, this can be late February to late June.
Don’t Be Fooled By Lookalikes
Like soap opera characters, morels seem to have a never-ending line of evil twins. These twins are poisonous and if you’re foraging for morels, you should avoid these “false morels” at all costs.
To pick and eat the wrong one can be fatal as many of these imposter morels are poisonous. A true morel will be completely hollow inside. A false morel will have spongy-textured insides. Be sure to slice open the mushroom before you prepare it for eating.
Beginner Tips For Foraging Morels
Growing to about 4 inches in height and 2 inches around, this sought-after fungi thrives in damp earth after a warm spring shower. But that doesn’t mean you can go out after a spring rainstorm and find morels popping up everywhere. They are notoriously hard to find, even by the best mushroom hunters.
To learn more about hunting, harvesting, and eating morel mushrooms, it is recommended that you forage for mushrooms with an experienced guide who can help you safely identify mushrooms. You can find such a guide by attending a mushroom festival or attending a foraging club meeting in your area.
Morel (and More) Mushroom Toast with Watercress, Shallots and Chives
Once you’ve found your morels (or more likely bought at the grocery store or farmer’s market), what exactly do you do with them? Morels are a great addition to many dishes but a particular favorite is morel mushroom toast with watercress, shallots, and chives.
This light, healthy, and delightfully flavorful dinner is easy to make on a busy weeknight. While you can use any mushroom or combination of preferred mushrooms, the dish is made most interesting with the use of morels, porcinis, and chanterelles.
These ‘shrooms give the meal a nutty, earthy, and hearty flavor that becomes even more robust after cooking. The shallots, thyme, lemon, and other aromatic herbs will have even the meat-eaters entranced at your table. Great for a lunch, breakfast, side dish, or appetizer!
- 6 Tbsp olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
- 4 3/4 inch thick slices country-style bread
- 1 garlic clove
- Kosher salt to taste
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter (Earth Balance for dairy free)
- 12 oz mixed mushrooms (such as morels, chanterelles, crimini, maitake) coarsely chopped
- 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp dry white wine
- 1 cup crème fraîche or sour cream (can sub unsweetened dairy free yogurt)
- 1 tsp chopped thyme
- 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup (loosely packed) trimmed watercress, torn
- 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp finely chopped chives
- Heat 3 Tbsp oil in a medium skillet over medium-high. Working in batches, fry bread until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer bread to a plate; wipe out skillet. Rub garlic clove onto bread, then season with salt. Using a paring knife, poke holes all over bread (so it can soak up all the sauce).
- Heat butter and 3 Tbsp oil in the same skillet over medium-high. Add mushrooms and shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the mushrooms are golden brown and slightly crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Add wine and cook until evaporated, about 30 seconds. Add crème fraîche and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce is slightly thickened but still loose and velvety, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in thyme and lemon zest, then remove from heat; season with salt and pepper.
- Toss watercress, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Drizzle with oil.
- Divide mushroom mixture among toasts. Top with chives and watercress salad.