I made a new friend this year. I’ve never met her, but I know her name is Teriyaki, and that she lives in Athens and loves to hunt mushrooms. Out of the blue online I got a message from her on my birthday, kinda like getting a present from the other side of the world. We talked about what our favorite mushrooms were, and how we liked to cook them. When I asked what her favorite varieties were, first and foremost were morels, or as she called them, morchels. She told me a simple way she liked to cook them: with some onion, garlic and oregano, finished with a little lemon juice.
She said she knew it wasn’t a very complicated way to cook them, but I am a hunter of more than food, and being told a recipe is like being given a little gift. Thinking of morels through my American lens wouldn’t necessarily point me in the direction of lemon, garlic and oregano, but our conversation gave me the chance to see food through her eyes for a minute. I’m no cultural culinary expert, but I do know that oregano is a hallmark herb of Grecian cuisine; it makes perfect sense they would use it to season mushrooms.
Of course when morel season came around I had make a recipe like Teriyaki’s. I started dreaming it up with all the ingredients she listed, as well as some that I inferred that she didn’t mention. For starters, I knew that in Greece they would use of olive oil in place of butter. Another ingredient I thought would be fun to use is wild oregano, instead of the typical variety available in stores.
Wild oregano/catmint has a much more subtle flavor than the other wild oregano I know of (bergamot), or store bought fresh oregano as well for that matter. I knew that if I used catmint, the chances of it taking over the morel’s flavor would be much less. I like bergamot as well, but it’s flavor is stronger, it also has a spicy edge to it when raw, whereas catmint does not. In all reality, you could use any oregano tasting herb, or just some regular fresh oregano, but I would add a bit less than the recipe below calls for.
On a semi-related note, I’ve been tending (read as watching) a little catmint plant that I transplanted from my dad’s farm, as well as some lamb’s quarter, a couple nettles, and a slew of wintercress plants. I’m a terrible gardener, but I have discovered I have great success at transplanting weeds I can eat, since they don’t need much attention. Whether the neighbors catch on to what I’ve been doing remains to be seen, but if their yards become infested with catmint I might have to convince them how much fun it is in the kitchen. This would be a great place to start.
Grecian Black Morels
I used black morels because it’s what I saw Greeks picking from pictures online via mushroom forums, but you could use any species of morel available. Also, know that this method makes slightly browned morels that are just a bit crisp on the edges due to using only oil. browning them in oil gives them a very deep flavor, but be careful they don’t burn!
This is written as an appetizer, but if you spooned the morels on top of some couscous with wilted spinach or greens you’d have a nice entree for a fun vegetarian meal with a Greek theme. Morels this ways would also be great with a subtle white-fleshed fish, like cod, walleye, or sole.
Serves 4 as an appetizer.
- 8 ounces fresh black morels
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Fresh lemon juice, to taste
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed with the flat side of a knife
- 1/2 cup yellow sweet onion, diced 1/4 inch
- 1 tbsp fresh catmint or another oregano flavored herb, thinly sliced.
- 1/2 cup flavorless oil like grapeseed or canola
- 1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
- If the morels are very large, or especially dirty, halve them vertically to inspect for debris or inhabitants. Clean the morels by quickly and gently dipping them one at a time in cold water and giving them a swish in the water. Lay the mushrooms out on a thick towel to weep any water they may have absorbed. If you leave the morels whole, they will need to lay on the towel and drain for twice as long.
- In the widest saute pan possible, heat the grapeseed and olive oil with the whole crushed garlic clove until the garlic clove is caramelized and browned, but not burned, then remove the garlic from the pan and discard.
- Add the morels and increase the heat to high. Cook the morels until they have wilted and taken on some color, about 3-4 minutes. Season the morels with salt, then push them to one side of the pan and add the diced onion. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onion is translucent and the morels are thoroughly cooked and wilted. If you left the morels whole, you will need to cook them longer to ensure they are thoroughly done. If the pan gets dry, add some extra flavorless oil and decrease the heat. (Since there is no milkfat from butter in this recipe, it would be easy to burn this dish if you don’t keep an eye on it.)
- When the morels are thoroughly cooked and wilted, remove the pan from the heat and add the catmint or oregano. Double check the seasoning for salt and pepper and finally add the lemon juice, then serve immediately.