Sunday, November 1, 2020

Quarantine Food Diaries : Medicinal Mushrooms, Why They Are Adaptogens and How To Use Them

With fear and anxiety going through the roof for many worldwide, now is the time to really get into medicinal shrooms.  Though Timothy Leary may have been discovering the effects of psilocybin, or psychedelic shrooms, on the brain, we are talking about something much more subtle in nature but no less potent in terms of healing body and brain. 

Adaptogen is a term that has started popping up on the labels of brands I love such as Four SigmaticSun Potion, and moon juice and is defined as an herb or mushroom that acts as a stress and anxiety modulator in the body and brain. I always try to eat clean, closest to the source, but the addition of these powders and supplements to drinks and smoothies is a quick way to boost milligrams per mouthful to whole foods and sometimes hard to get fresh versions of these special shrooms. 

Cortisol is the body's stress response hormone, our fight or flight hormone as it is commonly referred to and it is being activated daily, our sense of security is being put into question, stability, the influence of the news and everchanging face of our world takes it's toll on us collectively and individually everyday. Self care is the key and a component to that is looking at what we eat and how it can work towards soothing and calming our stress. Cooking and Eating activates the senses, creates nostalgia, warms a home with scent and heat and nourishes body and soul, why not have it help our brains to reduce our stress hormone as well?

The rains of fall have begun, the cooler temps and fallen leaves have created a perfect breeding ground for the family of funghi we are looking to consume. Though I am not a successful edible mushroom hunter, I usually find all the poisonous ones, those who are in the know find them for me, so  I am lucky all the same!

Maitake mushrooms or hen of the woods, their common name, are one such species found locally in the Northeast of America where I am. It is, along with reishi mushrooms one of the most potent alternative medicine adaptogens. Helping to regulate the systems of the body that have become unbalanced, these shrooms fight cancer cells, boost immune function and regulate mood imbalances. 

Maitake can be found in many supermarkets nation wide these days where Reishi because of it's woody nature are better taken as supplements. Cooking with Maitake mushrooms is a pleasure, I've made everything from cashew cream maitake mushroom soup to maitake "steaks" seen in another recipe : Maitake "steaks" on this blog. Their flavor is meaty with deep earthy tones and texture similar to a portobello, why those are often used as "steaks" as well. During this season I introduce them wherever I can. A recent favorite rosemary  roasted chicken thighs with maitake mushrooms over soft polenta and turmeric, tahini roasted acorn squash is all about the anti inflammatory properties these foods offer and that is our recipe for this chilly rainy day.

Rosemary Roasted Chicken Thighs with Maitake Mushrooms, Polenta and Turmeric Roasted Tahini Acorn Squash Wedges


serves 3-4

1 acorn squash, sliced into wedges, skin on, de seeded

6 organic, free range chicken thighs, skin on

2-4 sprigs fresh rosemary

1 large blossoming maitake mushroom 

2 tbsp tahini

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp garlic powder or fresh grated garlic 

dash cayenne pepper

freshly ground pink peppercorns


extra virgin olive oil 

1 cup white wine

1/2 cup instant polenta

2 cups water

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano (lactose free naturally)

2 tbsp butter

Dry off chicken thighs and salt, pepper, cayenne, and coat with garlic. Add a small amount of EVO to a cast iron pan and brown both sides on high heat, add torn pieces of maitake and rosemary and coat evenly in oil letting the aroma of garlic, rosemary and mushrooms fill the air, then quickly add the white wine before the aroma turns bitter from burning, this can make or break your flavor. 

Pop it in an oven, in the same cast iron pan, skin side up at 350F for 40 min. piercing the meat at 30 min to see if liquid runs clear, if it does remove from oven and let sit to rest. 

Meanwhile, arrange squash wedges on  parchment on a cookie sheet and coat in Evo, mixed with turmeric, cayenne, garlic, salt and pepper, finally drizzle tahini over top, it will stay exactly as you see it so make it pretty!

Pop in the oven just after the chicken, 1" wedges should take about 20-30 min and get good color on them, no need to flip.

On the stove top just before the chicken and squash are ready bring 2 cups of water and butter to a boil, sift in the polenta and stir vigorously until amalgamated and starts to thicken, pour in the parmigiano and take off the burner, about 3 min, for instant.

Plate away!!

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