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The S.O.’s and my recent move to a new home took its toll on us.  But now that we’re settled in [well, except for finding a good spot for my wine collection], we couldn’t be happier with our neighborhood.  We’ve loved watching the spring arrive and envelop our house in curtains of pink flower buds and velvety magnolia blossoms, all of which have now turned into bright chartreuse leaves.  Our Boston Terrier has become buddies with the Boston Terrier next door.  And I found a new favorite source for local produce and dairy at the nearby Boise Bench Market.

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Last week, the Bench Market posted that local morel mushrooms had arrived.  Eeep!  Morels!

Morel season is already too short in the parts of the country quilted in deciduous forest.  Here in the Mountain West, where arid, high-desert, coniferous forests dominate the ecosystem, morels are even scarcer.  So I hurried over to the Bench Market just in time to collect the last quarter-pound of their morels [seriously, they had sold out in less than a day — and this is Boise, where finding a gourmet is even more difficult than finding morels!].

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But once I got my little woodland gems home, I couldn’t figure out what to do with them.  All of the morel recipes I saw online were boring — variations on a wine-sauced sauté, several pastas, and the odd frittata.  I wanted to do something totally different with my mushrooms.  So with Cinco de Mayo just around the corner, I finally decided on tacos.

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I marinated the morels overnight.  The marinade was partially for flavor, and partially to hydrate the morels in preparation for a potentially dehydrating swim in hot oil the next day.  The marinade imparted a tart, fresh flavor to the meaty mushrooms — same idea as marinating meat in a mojo de ajo before turning it into tacos or fajitas.  If morels aren’t available, you can easily substitute any other mushroom variety in this recipe.

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I dredged the morels in flour-egg-flour, followed by a quick pan-fry to turn the morels into delightful puffs of umami hidden in a light, crispy shell.  For the breading, I recommend a cake or pastry flour — its low protein content prevents gluten buildup that makes the breading tough and doughy.  If all you have is all-purpose flour, add a couple of tablespoons of corn starch to the flour to decrease the protein concentration

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To unify the woody taste of the morels with the rest of the taco, I tied conventional mushroom-friendly flavors like garlic and tarragon into the salsa, and garnished everything with a few salty shreds of Gouda.  For a vegan taco, swap out or omit the Gouda.

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Crispy Morel Mushroom Tacos with Garlic-Tarragon Salsa

Makes about 6 tacos | Cook time 1 hour (+marinating time)

For the Morels

  • 3 ounces fresh morel mushrooms (about 2 C)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • small handful fresh parsley, chopped
  • small handful fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 1+1/2 C cake flour (or sub a.p. flour with 2 Tbsp corn starch mixed in)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1+1/2 C neutral-tasting vegetable oil

For the Salsa

  • 2-3 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 2 sprigs fresh tarragon, finely chopped
  • small handful fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • salt to taste
  • lemon juice to taste

For Assembling

  • corn tortillas
  • grated Gouda cheese
  • cilantro for garnish

Directions

  1. Rinse morels and pat dry.  Place morels, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, cilantro, and salt, into an airtight container.  Gently shake to distribute ingredients evenly, then let marinate 1 hour or up to overnight.
  2. Set three small dishes out in the following order, containing:  half of the cake flour, the two eggs (mixed well), and the other half of the cake flour.  Place the vegetable oil into a heavy-bottomed skillet or stockpot over medium heat.
  3. Once oil is hot, dredge marinated morels in flour, egg, then flour again.
  4. Gently place dredged morel into hot oil, turning once to cook both sides evenly.  The batter should turn a light golden brown and the morels will be tender after about 2 minutes on each side.
  5. Promptly remove morels from oil when batter turns light golden brown, to prevent excessive darkening or burning.  Drain on cooling rack.
  6. To prepare the salsa, chop and seed tomatoes.  Combine in mixing bowl with remaining salsa ingredients, then stir to incorporate.
  7. To serve, fill warm corn tortillas with 2-3 morels, and top with salsa, Gouda, and cilantro.

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