An umami-packed vegetarian main dish

Ann Maloney

THE WASHINGTON POST – My introduction to mushrooms created a prejudice that took years to overcome. They were canned. I remember them being spongy, a bit slick and the taste I recall most clearly was salt.

So, for years, I said no to mushrooms in or on anything. Big mistake.

While I’m not one for proselytising when it comes to food – you like what you like – I hate to think of anyone missing out the way I did just because they’ve never had well-prepared fresh mushrooms.

Anti-mushroom sentiment is a difficult one to overcome. Case in point: As I was buying an assortment of mushrooms to make this dish, the cashier at the grocery store couldn’t tell one from another, which I can understand. I sometimes have trouble telling the varieties apart. Then, he confessed. “I don’t eat them.”

Why? “Because of what they are. Fungus.”

Well, there’s no arguing with that.

Mushrooms with Chilis, Limes and Mint. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

For me, it was more of a texture issue, so the way I eased into mushroom eating was to buy them fresh and cook the sponginess out of them. (It took me a while, but I now like them raw as well.)

This recipe from Everyone’s Table by Gregory Gourdet with JJ Goode (Harper Wave, 2021) is a great example of that, making it worth a try if you already love mushrooms or are willing to give them another shot.

Mushrooms are about 90 per cent water. If you cook away that moisture, you’re left with more concentrated flavour, that meatiness that people talk about.

That’s what I’m after. Sauteing, roasting and grilling are three ways to get that deeper umami flavour.

In this recipe, you cut a mix of your favourite mushrooms into bite-size pieces and saute them in a neutral oil over high heat until they turn golden.

You’ll need a large skillet, or you’ll have to cook the mushrooms in batches to avoid crowding. A too-crowded skillet will stop the water from evaporating, and you’ll end up with soft, steamed mushrooms. Not the goal.

The golden mushrooms are then tossed with a sauce made with thinly sliced chiles and minced garlic, giving them a fresh zing.

When made this way, these mushrooms can be a main course atop rice or your favourite noodles. You can sprinkle mint on top or try them with fresh parsley or basil leaves. Or you can serve them as a side dish or spoon them on top of broiled chicken, beef or fried tofu.

MUSHROOMS WITH CHILIS, LIMES AND MINT

35 minutes

Four servings

Make Ahead: The dressing can be made up to one day ahead, but it will mellow a bit.

Storage Notes: This is best eaten right away, but can be refrigerated for up to two days. The dressing can be refrigerated for up to three days.

INGREDIENTS

For the sauce

Two tablespoons fish sauce

Two tablespoons lime juice

One tablespoon finely chopped palm sugar, coconut sugar or white granulated sugar

Two small fresh green or red Thai chilis, seeded, ribbed, thinly sliced

One large clove garlic, finely grated or minced

For the mushrooms

Three tablespoons avocado, grapeseed or vegetable oil

Two pounds mixed mushrooms, trimmed and cut into large but still bite-size pieces

Half teaspoon fine salt

Large handful of mint leaves

White or brown rice (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Make the sauce

In a small bowl, whisk together the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, chilis and garlic until the sugar has dissolved, about two minutes.

Make the mushrooms

In a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the mushrooms to the pan, stir well and then spread them out into an even layer as best you can. Cook, stirring every minute or so, until the mushrooms begin to release steam and water, and then turn golden and begin to shrink to more or less a single layer, about five minutes. Raise the heat to high and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are a deep golden brown, five to seven minutes more. Stir in the salt and cook for two more minutes.

Transfer the mushrooms to a serving bowl, add the sauce, and give them a toss. Scatter the mint leaves, whole or torn, on top. Serve warm, with rice on the side, if desired.