Our family enjoys taking a daily walk in the woods near our home. On this particular evening in early June, the heavy Vermont rains had brought a dampness to the ground and trees all around us. The small brook near our house was flowing again with a bubbling song. The forest colors after the rain were deeper and darker, and even the body of the trees held a rich dark umber tone. Sometimes after a summer rain, we are able to find unique edible treasures if we look carefully. On that damp evening, I could see the near-florescent orange color of a favorite delicacy clearly contrasted against wet bark from at least ten yards away. “It’s Chicken of the Woods!” I exclaimed with excitement. I knew that some tasty vegan meals were in our future.
Chicken of The Woods, or Laetiporus sulphureous, is an edible wild shelf mushroom that grows on trees. They are easily identified by their rich orange color on top and their smooth undersides (these mushrooms do not have gills underneath). You can safely eat properly identified and cooked Chicken of the Woods that are found on oak or maple trees, but never eat them if found on pines, hemlocks, or conifers. The mushroom is appropriately named as the texture and taste of the cooked mushroom is like chicken. Chicken of the Woods mushrooms can easily be added to any recipe calling for chicken, and they take on marinades easily. Chicken of the Woods is a wonderful plant-based, and truly humane alternative to real chicken. The mushroom packs a powerful protein punch: 3 ounces of cooked mushroom has only 33 calories, and 14 grams of protein!
CAUTION!!! You must be extremely cautious and careful when working with wild mushrooms, or any wild foods. You can easily become very sick, or even die, if you misidentify and eat the wrong mushroom. But don’t worry – there are ways to learn how to correctly identify and educate yourself about wild edibles. Summer is the perfect time to join a wild mushroom expedition so that you can learn more about the wonderful edible wild foods in your local area. Check with your local co-op or natural food store, or join a local wild edible group on social media. Learning about these wild foods is a rich way to connect with our Mother Earth and to remind ourselves of the natural ecosystems we are a part of.
If you are still hesitant about joining a wild mushroom expedition, you can exercise even more caution by purchasing wildcrafted Chicken of the Woods from reputable mushroom harvesters online or locally. The following recipe is for Chicken of the Woods fajitas, an easy low calorie protein-packed Mexican inspired dish. But if you are still unsure about the use of this wild vegan protein, you could replace the mushrooms with your favorite meatless chicken substitute (meatless chicken strips such as Gardein, tempeh, or tofu), or any other store-bought mushroom.
Chicken Of The Woods Fajitas
- 2 cups Chicken of the Woods (or equivalent meatless chicken replacement or store bought mushroom such as portobello)
- 1 Tbsp Olive oil (or use 1/4 cup water and or veggie broth)
- 2 Chopped cloves of garlic
- 1 Chopped onion
- 1 cup Sliced peppers (a mix of green, red, and yellow)
- 1 tsp Ground cumin
- 1 tsp Chili powder
- 1/2 tsp (optional) Red Chili Flakes
- 8 Whole wheat tortillas (or tortillas of your choice)
- 1/2 cup Fresh chopped cilantro
- Splash of fresh lime
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a cast iron skillet, place strips of the chicken of the woods mushroom and sauté for 15 minutes (mushrooms must cook for at least 15 minutes), flipping half way. Mushrooms should blacken some in the pan. Do not use water or oil on these mushrooms, as the mushrooms will soak in moisture. Set aside when cooked. If using meat alternative, cook according to package, or fry or bake in usual method.
Wrap tortilla shells in aluminum foil and place in 350-degree oven for 5-10 minutes or until heated through. Remove from oven and set aside.
In skillet, drizzle oil or pour in water/broth. Heat for up to 1 minute. Add onions, garlic, peppers, and cook until onions are translucent and peppers are soft but not soggy. Once veggies are cooked, return mushrooms to the pan and add the cumin, chili powder, hot pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. Saute for 1-2 minutes longer. Remove filling mixture from heat. If you like, add fresh cilantro and lime to the filling mix.
To serve, add a dollop of filling mixture to center of each tortilla. You can add any toppings you like (salsa, vegan sour cream, etc….) To wrap, fold bottom of tortilla up over filling, fold the sides in, overlapping. I tend to overfill my tortillas, so if you are like me you might simply fold in half and eat over your plate to catch the spill!
Also by Angie: Vegan Kebabs With Cilantro Coconut Rice
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Photos: Angie Follensbee-Hall