Magical, mystical mushrooms


Magical, mystical mushrooms

They've fascinated LIENTJIE WESSELS all her life — first her imagination, then her palate. She also shares three recipes.


MUSHROOMS have fascinated me all my life. My initial fascination was more with the stories and myths than the accompanying walk through the mushrooms' natural habitat of dark, forest-like parts.

Such are mushrooms that miraculously, one morning after a good downpour, they appear everywhere under the trees in the garden like little soldiers on the lawn. I was always convinced that there is a whole parallel life and community in our gardens, parks and fields.

There were the more sophisticated suburban types and the much more tedious farm-and-field communities, where all kinds of creatures walk hand in hand with mushrooms.

On our farm, if all the weather conditions cooperated nicely, hundreds of mushrooms appeared on abandoned termite mounds. These mushrooms are Termitomyces.

At first, they just lit up my imagination. Later, when I started eating mushrooms, which was only when I was about 14, I went back to Termitomyces, prepared them in various ways and dried them for an umami-filled powder that has multiple uses.

I wouldn't suggest that you should pick mushrooms without someone who really knows what they're doing. I also got Boletus. Quite a few people do this in Gauteng, the Western Cape and Mpumalanga. I still want to go foraging for wild mushrooms in Kaapsehoop with my old friend Heidi Bouwer.

One of the nicest trends I hope will remain a part of our kitchens forever is all the “kits" you can order online then grow and harvest at home. Because they grow so quickly, I think they will capture any child's imagination, and taking it further, making a meal is fun for the family.

Check out Takealot, MyShrooms, Green Cloud Solutions and Mushrush for your kits; mine is coming.

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After my slow start as a child, I am now completely converted and can eat mushrooms every day. There are 30 species in the world that we regularly eat, but there are possibly many more out of the 10,000 mushrooms we are still unsure about.

Most cooks and chefs refer to mushrooms as “meaty" and there is a reason for that: even though they are sold with vegetables, fungi and mushrooms have protein compositions similar to those of animals.

You can fry mushrooms and eat them on toast or put stuffed mushrooms on the fire. You can make “meatballs" with mushrooms and lentils — endless possibilities.

Today, I want to share a classic French mushroom salad that highlights my love for the taste of a raw mushroom. Eat immediately or save it in the fridge for a day or two as a light pickle salad. I made and served mine with a sweet potato and potato tortilla; it would also be excellent with any cheese pasta/potato dish or roast chicken.

Then, I want to share the umami bomb mushrooms from René Redzipi's restaurant, Noma, in Copenhagen. These are quickly fermented mushrooms, and when they were ready I fried them in a bit of butter and served them in a buddha bowl with brown rice, beans, coriander, carrots, green onions, peanuts and a delicious ginger and honey soy sauce. The mushrooms had a delightful umami taste … this bowl was  delicious.

There is also a one-dish mushroom and potato dish that will work wonderfully as we approach autumn (the heat is almost over). This is an old stalwart; we can replace the cream with full-cream yoghurt for a healthier variation.

Raw mushroom salad


  • 300g mushrooms of your choice
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon light balsamic vinegar
  • Salt & pepper


1. Cut mushrooms into slices.

2. Place all the other ingredients together in a jar, shake well and pour over the mushrooms just before serving.


Fermented mushrooms


  • 250g mushrooms of your choice, can also be a mixture.
  • Teaspoon of good Himalayan or Kalahari salt.
  • Jar big enough for a plastic bag full of lentils.


1. Rub the mushrooms clean with a clean cloth, place in a bowl, sprinkle with salt and massage in gently.

2. Place the mushrooms in a well-sterilised jar and put a plastic bag of lentils on top of them before screwing on the lid. Leave for up to five days. The longer you leave them, the more fermented the mushrooms become.


One-dish mushrooms with baby potatoes

(4 people)


  • 500g baby potatoes cut in half and cooked until just tender 
  • 250g portobellini mushrooms
  • 200g white mushrooms
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme or 1 dried
  • ½ teaspoon chilli
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ½ cup vegetable stock
  • ½ cup cream or full cream yoghurt
  • ½ cup white wine
  • Handful of chopped spring onions


1. Cut the mushrooms in half and place with the potatoes, lemon juice, garlic, oil, salt, pepper and thyme in a roasting pan and roast for 15-20 minutes at 200ºC. You only want everything golden brown.

2. Pour wine into a pot on the stove and cook until you don't smell alcohol, then add the vegetable stock, cream or yoghurt and cook for about 5 min.

3. Now pour the roasted vegetables into the sauce, mix and bring to the boil.

4. Sprinkle with spring onions and eat as is or with brown rice or whole grain bread.


♦ VWB ♦

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