I never dreamed talking to the open air would connect me with mushroom hunters from around the world, but it did. I used to be a little self conscious talking about my hunting “habit”. It’s just that where I live in Minnesota, to the great majority of people the term “wild mushroom” refers to morels, and nothing else; if you pick something else you’re probably going to poison yourself.
The internet is fascinating in that it allows us to see what’s happening, not only in our own backyard, but in someone else’s on the other side of the planet; It’s pretty cool when you think about it. One of the first people that reached out to me was from Turkey. During late fall 2013, when the lactarius season was at it’s apex, I talked about the first saffron milkcap patch I had discovered in Minnesota.
I had thought saffron milkcaps to be a rare novelty: maybe I would see one or two, and those would be filled with bugs. A few days after I discovered a true vein of them, I put up a fun story about hunting them with some Russian Immigrants in the Twin Cities. Almost immediately I got a message from a Turkish man espousing his love for saffron milkcaps. He said that in Turkey their words for it are “Kalinka” or “The Bloody One”, which was interesting.
Now the saffron milkcaps I find in Minnesota give a bright orange latex, and turn the same color when sliced, so they don’t really remind me of being bloody or red. I knew that another milkcap exists though, once that does give off a blood-red looking latex when cut. It’s a bit of educated speculation, but I assume the milkcaps the Turkish man was referring to were not the Lactarius delicious I was picking, but Lactarius sanguifluus, which is said to be far superior.
Feeling a little inspired, I knew I had to do some research into how these might be prepared in Turkey. Like I usually do when I am translating recipes in Italian or French, I looked to google translate, found the word mushroom in Turkish, and started to do some searches.
The Turkish recipes I came across in my culinary library and uncovered though looking around online showed that they like to finish cooking mushrooms with lemon. I also know they rely heavily on yoghurt as a condiment, and have a fondness for using cumin seed. Most of the time it seemed like Turkish mushrooms were simply fried or sauteed, unlike their use in Basque and Catalan cuisine, where they are the stars of traditional dishes like Arroz’ a la ampurdonesa. (These are especially prized in the Iberian peninsula, depending on location they will be called these three names: rovellons-Catalan, nizcalos-Basque, or just setas/mushrooms-Spanish)
I know too that olive oil is heavily used in Turkish cuisine too, so here the mushrooms are fried in a 1/3 mix of extra virgin and flavorless oil. Contrary to popular opinion, you can cook with extra virgin olive oil, you just have to cut it with other oil that has a high smoke point to avoid scorching and burning. The flavor of cooking with mixed oil like this is great, and is a technique I learned of from my years spent cooking in Italian restaurants.
Cheers to my Turkish mushroom hunting friends, also to my Australian ones who are hunting these as we speak. If any of you guys have more fun recipes you like to add lactarius species to, send them my way; I’d love to see them.
Turkish Saffron Milkcaps with Cumin Yoghurt
Serves 4 as an appetizer
- 1 lb fresh saffron milkcaps
- All purpose flour, as needed for dredging
- Ground cayenne pepper, to taste
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, preferably a middle eastern brand
- 2/3 cup flavorless oil, such as grapeseed or canola
- Clean the saffron milkcaps and inspect for dirt and debris, if needed, brush them clean with a towel or quickly swish under cold water to remove any foreign objects. If you wash them, allow them to drain on paper towels or cloths for ten minutes or so before frying, changing the towels as needed if they become too wet. Once the mushrooms are dry again, trim the stems, leaving about an inch before the cap, then cut them into equal sized pieces. I find if the mushrooms are very large, I like to quarter them, if they are small I leave them whole, If they are medium sized, I halve them.
- Begin to heat a very wide saute pan with the oil. Mix the flour with the ground cayenne to taste, then toss the saffron milkcaps in it. Gently tap excess flour off of the mushrooms and then add to the pan, making sure the mushrooms don’t touch each other, you may have to work in batches.
- Cook the mushrooms until golden brown and crisp, then remove to a paper towel to drain excess oil, sprinkling them with 1/4 tsp salt while they are still warm to help the salt adhere. Serve immediately with the cumin yoghurt sauce drizzled over them or on the side as a dip.
Cumin Yoghurt Sauce
Yield: 1/2 cup
- 1/2 cup greek style yoghurt
- 1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seed
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp minced fresh garlic
- tbsp fresh chopped cilantro
- Toast the cumin seed in a pan in the oven for 5 minutes at 350. Grind the seeds to a powder using a molcajete or a coffee grinder.
- Mix the ground cumin, fresh lemon, cilantro, salt, and garlic to the yoghurt, and reserve until needed.