I love the idea of stuffed mushrooms: savory, bite-sized morsels that you can serve at a party. Love the fact that they spare no parts of mushrooms, since the stems are chopped and sautéed to stuff inside the bowl-shaped undersides. But I rarely love the outcome: bland-tasting, greyish-colored, and lacking in texture.
They’re also not particularly healthful when made with a traditional stuffing of buttery breadcrumbs and cheese. But I suppose that’s not the point–and stuffed mushrooms are certainly not as decadent as it gets when it comes to hors d’oeuvres besides.
So for a gluten-free, low glycemic-index, protein-friendly variation, I skipped the breadcrumbs and went with the nutty, popped pebbles of quinoa. Since these would be served at a holiday party, I wanted them to pop with color, too. Sundried tomatoes and fresh rosemary lent these festive colors, and lots of flavor (from plants alone).
I’d have to say that my biggest issue with most of the stuffed mushrooms I’ve tried in my life was not the stuffing, though. It was the mushrooms. I think people fuss a lot over the flavor of the stuffing–adding bacon, cheese, butter, and whathaveyou–that they forget that most of the bite is comprised of the mushroom itself. These sad, sad vessels for all that glorious glut are so often forgotten about in my opinion–under-seasoned if at all, and often undercooked, too. I don’t remember the last time I enjoyed an unsalted, par-baked mushroom. No matter what was on top of it.
So to ensure that these de-stemmed mushrooms soaked up plenty of flavor, I let them sit in olive oil and salt for a good while to marinate. Any kind of mushrooms will benefit from this. You can use crimini (or baby portobello) or just plain white mushrooms like I did. But here’s a good tip: the more bruised and discolored they are, the better they’ll taste. It sort of works backwards compared to most fresh produce, but old mushrooms tend to taste better, since they’ve dehydrated a bit. I also cooked the mushrooms at a low and slow heat in the oven (325 degrees) so that they’d develop a deep flavor over time, and cook through completely.
I’ve never made stuffed mushrooms with quinoa before, but after a recipe involving hollowed tomatoes stuffed with bulgur, I had a hunch that quinoa (which shares a similar texture to bulgur when cooked) would work well here. It seemed worth a try, and after tossing the quinoa with chopped sundried tomatoes and rosemary, this quinoa pilaf seemed good enough to eat as a side dish alone (make enough that you’ll have leftovers!). But would it stay stuffed inside the mushrooms? While moist after it’s been cooked, quinoa begins to dry out with air, and especially with the heat of an oven. So I drenched it with lots of olive oil and topped the stuffed mushrooms with grated cheese.
My hope was that the cheese would help create a crisp helmet to hold the whole stuffed thing together. I think I could have chosen a better-for-melting cheese than the aged grana padano instead, but in the end, each bite did stay together before making it into the mouth. After multiple plate-swaps for this photo, even, too. The bits of quinoa that stuck around the top of the mushrooms were delightfully crispy, while the pilaf underneath was warm and soft. Maybe you could even just roast the mushrooms without the stuffing, then pack the stuffing on top for the last five minutes or so of baking if you prefer a more uniform result.
Finally, fair warning: don’t attempt to transport these to holiday parties not in your home. Or if you do, travel very gingerly. After schlepping through subway stations with these all the way to Bushwick, where I taped an episode of Eat Your Words, then into Manhattan for a quick errand, then onto Bed-Stuy for that party at a friend’s place, these mushrooms were a little less-stuffed afterward. But by then we were too busy making latkes (another great holiday party snack) to mind much.
Quinoa Stuffed Mushrooms with Sundried Tomatoes and Rosemary
8 oz white mushrooms, uniformly sized (preferably on the smaller side)
1/2 cup quinoa
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
3-4 sundried tomatoes, finely chopped
1-2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
about 2 oz. grated cheese (such as parmesan, or any kind you like)
salt and pepper to taste
Scrub the mushrooms of surface dirt and pat dry well. Snap off the stems of the mushrooms and set aside (do not discard). Toss the caps with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and about 3 generous pinches of salt. Rub to mix thoroughly and set aside for at least 30 minutes (or overnight).
Cook the quinoa according to the instructions on the package. Let cool several minutes.
Finely chop the reserved mushroom stems. Heat a pan with 1 tablespoon of the oil and add the chopped onions along with a pinch of salt. Let cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the chopped mushroom stems and increase heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are slightly browned and pan is dry, about 4 minutes.
Combine the cooked quinoa, onion and mushroom mixture, chopped sundried tomatoes and rosemary in a bowl. Stir in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Pack a small amount of filling into each marinated mushroom cap, pressing the filling down to a flattened surface with a spoon. Place each mushroom an inch apart on a baking sheet. Top each one with a couple pinches of the grated cheese. Roast for 30-40 minutes (depending on the size of the mushrooms), until the mushrooms have shrank a little and deepened in color. Let cool a couple minutes before serving.
(for 12-15 pieces)
8 oz. button mushrooms: $2.99
1/2 cup quinoa: $0.50
4 tablespoons olive oil: $0.50
1/2 cup chopped onion: $0.20
4 sundried tomatoes: $0.50
handful fresh rosemary (from a windowsill plant): $0.20
2 oz. grated cheese: $0.75
Five brownie points: These are pretty good bites if you’re snacking your entire meal away, like so many of us do before a party spread. You’ve got protein and plenty of minerals from the quinoa (even a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids). Selenium and potassium from mushrooms, amongst other trace vitamins and minerals. A small amount of cheese that can easily be omitted for a totally vegan-tastic rendition, and heart-healthy olive oil. You’ve done MUCH worse with hors d’oeuvres.
Seven maple leaves: Props to an almost entirely plant-based appetizer and the use of year-round ingredients like dried tomatoes and pantry grains. But perhaps the biggest green achievement of this dish is using a commonly wasted part of mushrooms–the stems. (They’re still tasty, and can go into stocks and broths if not stuffed mushrooms, too.)