You're in the mood for a steak, but not for all the fat, cholesterol and calories. There is a solution: the mushroom.

Not just any mushroom, but an extremely large, dark brown mushroom now commonly available in supermarkets. Portobello mushrooms are really just grown-up brown cremini mushrooms, which are variations of the commonly cultivated, white button mushroom.

We began hearing about portobellos in the 1980s when these once ugly ducklings underwent a glamorous makeover. The mature mushrooms often had to be thrown out because growers couldn't sell them, until some marketing genius began promoting them as the exotically named "portobello" (or "portabella").

There are more than 35,000 varieties of mushrooms, and most are full of nutrients. Portobellos are a good source of copper, niacin, riboflavin, B vitamins and terpene.

Portobellos are sold sliced as well as whole but make a more dramatic main dish when served whole. They measure up to 6 inches across, so one makes a good-sized serving.

When cooked over high, relatively dry heat, moisture evaporates and leaves the mushroom with a richly concentrated, almost meaty flavor and texture. Grilled portobellos have become a popular vegetarian alternative to steak or hamburger, and grilling brings out the best in them.

Portobellos should be a light brown color, dry but not shriveled, slick, or rubbery, which could mean they've been stored too long. It's best to cook mushrooms within a few days of purchase. They should be stored in paper bags in the refrigerator - plastic retains too much moisture. If they are sold wrapped in plastic, remove it at home and wrap them loosely with paper towels. Do not wash mushrooms until ready to use, then wipe them gently with a soft, damp paper towel.

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Grilling portobellos with a simple marinade, some garlic and herbs produces a meaty meal that should satisfy a craving for steak.

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PORTOBELLO BURGERS

Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients

  • 4 large Portobello mushrooms
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced into very thin slivers
  • 1 tsp. fresh rosemary or 1/2 tsp. dried, (optional)
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp. dried, (optional)
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp. balsamic or red wine vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat broiler or grill.
  2. Wipe mushrooms with damp cloth. Remove stems. With paring knife, make slits in tops of caps. Stuff slivers of garlic and herbs (if using) into slits.
  3. In small; bowl, whisk together oil and vinegar with salt and pepper to taste. Brush mushrooms with oil mixture.
  4. Place mushrooms, cap-side down, on pan and broil or grill until soft and brown, about 3 to 5 minutes per side.
  5. Serve in place of a steak or with lettuce and tomato on toasted whole-grain buns.

Per serving:
94 calories
7 g. total fat (1 g. saturated fat)
6 g. carbohydrate
2 g. protein
1 g. dietary fiber
8 mg. sodium


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