Andreas Strauch

Community Manager at Kitchen Stories

From big bunches of Swiss chard to baskets full of juicy heirloom tomatoes, aromatic peaches to bundles of crisp red radishes, enjoying the abundance of summer is one of life’s simple pleasures. This article is part of “The Big Veggie Summer Issue,” a month of plant-based recipes presented by Garden Gourmet. Whether you’re an omnivore or flexitarian, vegan or vegetarian, there’s something for everyone! To get up to date on all the amazing veg we’re cooking with this month, check back here for a full list of our latest recipes and articles, and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram for extra tasty content!

Mushrooms are fascinating: They’re not plant and not a vegetable, they’re meaty, but they’re not meat, they come in all kinds of shapes and forms—and yet they often live a shadowy existence in our kitchens and dishes. We know them best by the most common kinds, and we might often use them to add texture and flavor to sauces and stews, but rarely are mushrooms the star of the meal—wrongly, in my opinion!

Mushroom varieties like shiitake, King oyster (or smaller oyster mushrooms), and portobello are full of hearty, earthy flavors that do wonders in so many dishes, especially as a protein-rich meat substitute for vegetarian and vegan diets.

Shiitakes and king oyster mushrooms ended up in my recipe for pad kra pao (a Thai stir-fry dish with basil, usually made with ground pork) by chance: I had Thai kra pao (holy basil) at home, but no ground meat, which I usually use in the dish. Instead, I had different kinds of fresh mushrooms. I had an inkling that the earthy, umami flavor of the shiitake mushrooms and oyster mushrooms would be a perfect match for the perfumed notes of the holy basil. The first test was a success but it took a few more trials at home and in the Kitchen Stories test kitchen until it was completely fine-tuned—and I can now present you with my vegan version of the delicious Thai classic:

Mushroom pad kra pao (Vegan Thai basil stir-fry)

Mushroom pad kra pao (Vegan Thai basil stir-fry)

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Here’s everything I’ve learned about how to use mushrooms like shiitake, king oyster mushrooms and portobello to make hearty meatless dishes.

Shiitake mushrooms: A flavor-packed meat alternative

Shiitake mushrooms are native to Asia and are used widely beyond Japan (where the West has taken the name from), in Korea, China (in Chinese they are called Dong Gu) and parts of Southeast Asia. They are known for their strong, savory flavor and for their healthy makeup. You can get fresh shiitake in stores all year round, however, this does not mean that dried shiitakes are inferior: They’re just better suitable for broths, stocks and stews, where they rehydrate and infuse broths with their intenser umami and mushroomy flavor, so that no one will miss the meat!

Fresh shiitake mushrooms have a pleasant, slightly elastic bite, a somewhat milder flavor, and are also delicious in many short-cooked recipes, whether in a noodle sauce or in a stir-fried dish. Try replacing the beef in this stir-fry with sliced shiitake mushrooms, you'll be surprised how hearty it tastes!

In the case of my pad kra pao recipe the shiitakes are finely diced so that they brown on all sides and, much like the ground meat in the original recipe, absorb the flavorful sauce well.

King oyster mushrooms and oyster mushrooms: Related and yet so different

Thick-stemmed king oyster mushrooms have a firm texture and do well grilled in slices, sautéed hot or in stews.

When sautéing, it’s best to add them to a dry, non-stick pan and fry until hot, then reduce the heat, add a fat or oil of choice, continue frying until cooked through, and salt and season to taste only at the very end. This will give them an more intense flavor and keep them juicy on the inside.

For vegan pad kra pao, on the other hand, the small cubes of mushroom are marinated with a little salt before frying to extract liquid from them, so they approach the drier texture of fried ground meat.

Oyster mushrooms belong to the same family as king oyster mushrooms, but are clearly different from them. You can tell right away by their shape: Where king oyster mushrooms have thick stems and small tops, have almost no stem and a frilly top that’s reminiscent of an oyster (or to me personally, a UFO).

Oyster mushrooms have a softer texture and are suitable for a variety of dishes, from Asian stir-frys to breaded mushrooms—their shape is already naturally predestined for schnitzels. For a great vegan schnitzel breading, check out this recipe.

Portobello: The giant mushroom for your veggie burger

Which brings us to the next topic, or rather, mushroom: the portobello mushroom.

Portobello is also a great meat alternative because its mild but savory flavor pairs well with a multitude of dishes. Their size and shape can be a huge advantage: Grilled, for example, the portobello fits perfectly in a burger bun and becomes a juicy, delicious veggie patty in this recipe. When stuffed, on the other hand, you’re in luck, because there’s so much space to be filled with flavor. Try this recipe for stuffed portobello mushrooms!

How do you like your mushrooms best? Has the article inspired you to create your own? Leave us a comment!

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