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Mushrooms Add Depth Without Fat

June 27, 1996|FAYE LEVY | Levy is the author of "Faye Levy's International Vegetable Cookbook" (Warner Books)

Mushrooms help dispel the myth that everything that tastes good must be fattening. Not only are they delicious, they are also low in calories and virtually fat-free.

They make satisfying, easy additions to all kinds of salads. For a quick salad, I often open a bag of lettuce or baby spinach and toss the greens with sliced fresh mushrooms and a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

Mushrooms are especially good with tomatoes and cucumbers. Try adding sliced mushrooms to the standard Mediterranean chopped salad of diced cucumbers and tomatoes.

I also make a light all-vegetable rendition of the tomato-basil-mozzarella salad that you find in Italian restaurants, substituting slices of large white mushrooms for the cheese.

Of course, mushrooms can be made into a great salad on their own.

They are great with a simple vinaigrette of 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar and salt and pepper. At La Varenne Cooking School in Paris, we prepared a creamy mushroom salad with garlic and served it in artichoke hearts. Sometimes I vary the recipe for casual suppers by serving the salad in halved tomatoes, on a bed of lettuce or simply in a bowl.

To use mushrooms raw in salads, choose white or Italian brown mushrooms. You can use the ready-sliced mushrooms available in supermarkets, if they are fresh. I prefer to slice whole ones to make sure I have very fresh, firm mushrooms. Don't let mushrooms sit in your refrigerator before using them; they will become wet and unappealing.

Before cutting mushrooms, rinse them briefly in a strainer and rub off any dirt. Then cut the mushrooms in fairly large pieces, either slices or rough dice. This takes little time, and the thick slices enable you to enjoy the mushrooms' meaty texture.

Some experts recommend dipping mushrooms in lemon juice as soon as they are cut to keep them white. I find that this technique makes their flavor too tart and tends to soften their pleasing texture. Instead, I prepare the dressing first and toss the mushrooms with it. This gives the mushrooms a richer flavor, and their taste benefits from a brief marinating in the dressing, up to an hour.

TOMATOES STUFFED WITH MUSHROOM SALAD

White wine vinegar or lemon juice

1 clove garlic, finely minced

Salt

Freshly ground white pepper

1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream (regular or nonfat)

6 ounces white mushrooms, cleaned

3 large tomatoes

1 tablespoon minced parsley

Whisk 1 1/2 tablespoons vinegar with garlic and salt and pepper to taste in bowl. Whisk in creme fraiche. Halve mushrooms and cut in thick slices. Add to dressing and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add few drops more vinegar if needed. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Halve each tomato horizontally. If necessary, cut thin slice from bottom of each tomato half so that it stands and does not roll. Using small spoon, carefully remove pulp from tomatoes. (It can be saved for adding to stock.) Sprinkle tomatoes with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon mushroom salad into tomatoes to fill them generously. Just before serving, sprinkle with parsley. Serve any remaining mushroom salad separately.

Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

62 calories; 66 mg sodium; 9 mg cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 5 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.63 gram fiber.

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