Fall is the perfect season for sipping on hot apple cider, baking pumpkin pie, creating leaf mazes and decorating with festive gourds, pumpkins and acorns. Aside from these favorites, fall is also the perfect season for harvesting mushrooms.

Although they are available year-round, mushrooms are in peak season during the fall and winter months. In fact, September is National Mushroom Month – how suiting!

Mushrooms are an inexpensive, versatile vegetable. Whether prepared as the main dish, served as an appetizer or incorporated into a side dish, mushrooms are a delicious complement to any cuisine, adding exquisite flavor, savoriness and volume as well as boosting vegetable intake. They can also serve as a meat substitute for vegans/vegetarians. The earthy, umami-rich taste of mushrooms allows them to blend well with a variety of flavors. Umami is one of the basic tastes, along with sweet, salty, sour and bitter. This taste, created by the amino acid glutamate, is described as pleasant and savory and is found in foods such as meat, dairy, fish and vegetables.

Monterey Mushrooms Inc. has been working with the United States Department of Agriculture on a research project that involves simulating natural sun exposure with controlled UV light to create vitamin D-rich mushrooms. Like humans, mushrooms convert sunlight into a usable form of vitamin D. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, two essential minerals for maintaining bone health and strength. Just one half-cup serving of its mushrooms provides 100% of the recommended daily vitamin D intake.

Baby portabella mushrooms are, without a doubt, a nutritional powerhouse. Aside from being low in calories, fat and sodium, they provide antioxidants that may protect our body’s cells from damage caused by free radicals. They are an excellent source of riboflavin, a B vitamin important for energy, growth and red blood cell production. Baby portabellas are also a good source of:

• Selenium, known for its antioxidant properties; may play a role in preventing cancer of the colon prostate, lung, bladder, skin, esophagus and stomach.

• Copper, necessary for producing and storing iron.

• Potassium, which aids in lowering blood pressure.

Although baby portabellas are a mighty mushroom, they do require careful storage and handling. A few helpful tips:

• Refrigerate in the original packaging immediately after purchasing.

• Don’t store near pungent foods as baby portabellas may absorb their odors.

• Can be kept in the refrigerator for up to one week.

• Store in a brown paper bag once opened.

• Sautéed mushrooms, as opposed to fresh mushrooms, can be frozen.

• Wipe gently with a damp cloth before use. If preparing mushrooms in bulk, rinse quickly under cool water (don’t soak!) and drain.

Tracey Shaffer, RD, LD, is a Hy-Vee dietitian at the Blue Springs location. The information provided should not be construed as professional medical advice. Email her at tshaffer@hy-vee.com.


Grilled mushroom quesadillas

Yield: 6 portions

Serving size: 1 quesadilla (1 wrap folded over ½ cup mushrooms, ⅓ avocado and 2 ounces cheese)

All you need:

2 pounds fresh baby portabella mushrooms, sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

6 whole-grain wraps

2 cups (around 8 ounces) shredded cheese, such as reduced-fat Cheddar and Monterey Jack, plus extra for garnish

2 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and thinly sliced

6 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves (optional)

Salsa verde and diced tomatoes, for garnish

All you do:

If grilling: Preheat grill. While grill heats, toss mushrooms with oil and sprinkle with salt. Cook mushrooms in one layer in a grill basket, in batches if necessary. Cook until one side is deep brown, about six to 10 minutes. Turn and grill other side till a similar color is achieved, another six to 10 minutes. Cooking times may vary.

If sautéeing: Heat olive oil in large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add a single layer of mushrooms and cook, without stirring, for about five minutes or until mushrooms become red-brown on one side. Add salt, flip mushrooms and cook about five minutes more, until other side is same color.

While mushrooms cook, assemble quesadillas. Distribute half the cheeses and all avocado slices on left half of six tortillas. When mushrooms are done, distribute mushrooms and cilantro leaves, if desired, among tortillas and top with remaining cheese. Fold tortilla in half and grill or warm in skillet until cheese begins to melt, then flip to cook other side. Transfer to cutting board, cut into wedges and serve with salsa verde, tomatoes and additional cheese.

Note: If a grill basket is not available, layer several sheets of foil together and fold up sides to make a shallow pan, or use a disposable foil pan. Add a single layer of mushrooms and cook, without stirring, for about five minutes or until mushrooms become red-brown on one side. Flip mushrooms and cook about five minutes more, until other side is same color.

Nutrition facts, per serving: 400 calories, 22 g total fat, 7 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 900 mg sodium, 17 g protein, 33 g total carbohydrates, 5 g dietary fiber

Adapted from Monterey Mushrooms.