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Salty, sweet, sour and spicy

G Daniela Galarza

THE WASHINGTON POST – I’ve been watching the new HBO series The Last of Us, which – without giving much away – stars fungi. It pulls at a growing thread in popular culture: the elegant mystery of mushrooms.

Some of them can kill us, some of them can cause hallucinations, and some of them are nutritious and delicious and a regular part of our diets.

The photographer and author Andrea Gentl became obsessed with mushrooms as a kid. As an adult, she indulged in her obsession while photographing the dishes chefs created with edible fungi. In her book Cooking With Mushrooms, she presents a cohesive and imaginative treatise on the types of mushrooms we eat.

Among the many recipes in the book that caught my eye – including miso mushroom paste, salt and pepper brick mushrooms and crispy rack of oyster mushrooms – was this one, for mushroom larb.

“Larb hits the sour, salty, sweet and spicy notes that are so specific to Southeast Asia,” Gentl wrote. Rather than use the usual chopped or ground meat, she uses chopped mushrooms, roasted until crisp and meaty.

Mushroom larb with crisp shiitakes is salty, sweet, sour and spicy. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST
Serve the mushrooms and sauce family-style, with lettuce leaves for scooping and stuffing and herbs and sauce for sprinkling and drizzling on the side

I adapted Gentl’s recipe slightly. First, you’ll use sliced shiitakes here, which crisp nicely in the oven after getting dressed with a touch of oil, minced shallots, sliced lemongrass, chopped makrut lime leaves (if you can find them!), garlic and fish sauce.

Roast the mushrooms at a high temperature and watch as they release their moisture and turn a deep mahogany brown.

While that’s happening, make the nuoc cham-inspired sauce. You’ll need lots of fresh lime juice, a bit of fish sauce, brown sugar and some chili-garlic sauce for a touch of heat. Finally, pluck a small handful of mint leaves and tender cilantro sprigs, and arrange leafy lettuce cups on a platter.

To serve, you’ll pile the roasted mushrooms in the lettuce leaves, dress them with some of the sauce, add a few fresh herbs and eat.

Much lighter than meat-based larb, Gentl describes this variation as “light as a feather” but with “a serious flavour punch”.


Active time: 20 minutes
Total time: One hour
Two servings

– If you’re allergic to mushrooms use firm, pressed tofu, crumbled, tossed with the shallots, lemongrass and fish sauce and then sauteed in a pan with oil until browned.

– In place of brown sugar you could use date sugar, coconut sugar or maple syrup.

– To make this vegetarian, instead of fish sauce, use soy sauce or tamari.


For the larb:

– Three tablespoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed, plus more for greasing
– 20 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
– One shallot, quartered and sliced
– Two cloves garlic, minced or finely grated
– Four makrut lime leaves, thinly sliced (optional)
– One (two-inch) piece lemongrass, dry outer layer removed and thinly sliced (optional)
– Two tablespoons fish sauce

For the sauce:

– Finely grated zest and juice of four large limes (about two tablespoons lime zest and two-thirds cup lime juice)
– Quarter cup packed light brown sugar
– Two tablespoons fish sauce
– Two teaspoons chilli-garlic sauce, such as sambal oelek

For serving:

– Eight large lettuce leaves, such as butter or green leaf lettuce
– Small handful fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
– Small handful fresh Thai basil leaves (may substitute with Italian basil)
– Small handful fresh mint leaves


Position a rack in the centre of the oven and preheat to 200 degrees Celsius. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with aluminium foil, and lightly grease the foil with oil.

In a large bowl, toss together the mushrooms, shallot, garlic, lime leaves, if using, and lemongrass, if using. Add the oil and fish sauce and toss thoroughly to coat. Spread the mushrooms in an even layer on the baking sheet – it’s fine if they overlap – and roast for 20 minutes. Using a spatula or tongs, toss the mushrooms lightly and roast for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until they are well browned and crisp.

Make the sauce: Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the lime zest, juice, brown sugar, fish sauce and chilli-garlic sauce.

Serve the mushrooms and sauce family-style, with lettuce leaves for scooping and stuffing and herbs and sauce for sprinkling and drizzling on the side.

Nutrition information per serving
Calories: 434; Total Fat: 23g; Saturated Fat: 2g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 2,264mg; Carbohydrates: 56g; Dietary Fibre: 9g; Sugar: 35g; Protein: 12g.

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