Morels are one of the most highly prized mushrooms in the culinary world, and can command anything between $10 and $20 for only one ounce; if you can find them that is. Most people go foraging for their own morels, but in some parts of the world where people have found that collecting morels is a lucrative business, their numbers are depleting. In Pakistan and Britain morels or Gucchi as they are called in Urdu are not rare, but in Montenegro they are on the red data list for flora and are becoming rare in other countries too. In Pakistan morels are found in Swat and Kaghan and are exported to Europe. Morels are easy to spot because they have a sponge-like cap which grows upright.
   It seems that mushrooms in general are not much used in cooking in Pakistan or not where we are at least. I have found it difficult to track them down. As with other mushrooms morels are good for your health. However you shouldn’t eat morels raw as they can cause a stomach upset; neither should you attempt to eat old ones that are showing signs of decay as these are poisonous.  
   Morels are good dried as the flavour becomes more concentrated and you can do this by threading string through the caps and hanging them up to dry in the sun.
    Like other edible mushrooms they contain the B complex vitamins, vitamin D and essential amino acids, but the morel mushrooms have an uncommon amino acid in them cis-3-amino-l-proline. The polysaccharides they contain have several medical properties including antiviral, immunoregulatory, anti-tumour growth effects and they give you more resistance to fatigue. Extracts from the polysaccharides have antioxidant effects and these morels can help prevent heart disease and colorectal cancer as well as having numerous other benefits. They are rich in the minerals potassium, zinc and iron and contain relatively high proportions of selenium which prevents free radical formations. These mushrooms potentially lower the risks of breast and prostate cancer too, in the same way that pumpkin seeds do.
   When Linnaeus the Swedish botanist first named morels in 1753 he called them Phallus esculenta as he may have believed that they were a stinkhorn mushroom. However they are in no way related, so the botanical name was later changed. It could be of course that Linnaeus was struck by the phallic shape of this mushroom. Thomas Middleton may have had this morel in mind too rather than the common mushroom when in his play “Hengist, King of Kent” he gives us the line “Thou mushrump, that shott up in one night with lyeing with thy Mistress.” He was a Jacobean playwright and both they and the Elizabethans loved a good phallic pun.
   One of my favourite ways of cooking morels is to wash and slice them and fry in olive oil and butter and then eat them on toast for breakfast.

250 gr morels
120 gr minced lamb or beef or cooked leftover meat
1 small onion thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
2 tsp ajwain or fresh thyme finely chopped
butter and olive oil for frying
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Remove the stalks from the morels, and chop these, leaving the cap whole.
Melt the butter and add the oil and fry the onion, garlic, and morel stalks. When the onion is about to turn golden, add the minced meat, nutmeg and thyme or ajwain and fry until it is cooked, stirring well. (If you are using cooked leftover minced meat, there is no need to cook it, and you should stop cooking at this point, and mix the meat with the onions etc.)
Remove the meat mixture from the heat, allow it to cool a little and then stuff the morel caps with it.
Preheat the oven to a moderate heat and place the morels on a baking tray.
Put the stock in a pan and bring to the boil, then pour over the morels. Cover them with foil and cook for 20-30 mins.
Allow to settle for 5 minutes and then remove the foil and serve.
This has Taste and is a Treat.

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