There is meat, and there is fake meat, and then there are vegetables widely considered to be meaty substitutes: the mushroom, the jackfruit, the cauliflower sliced into steaks, tofu (it was once a soybean! It’s basically a vegetable.) “Meaty” is a crown heavy with expectation to place upon these vegetables – especially the poor cauliflower steak. Can’t they just be vegetables, you might ask, must they dance for us so?
Divorcing the concept of meat-proximity takes a lot of unlearning – at least, for me, as someone who grew up with meat-and-three-veg as the guiding framework for a successful meal, even if l’m pretty sure 90% of what I actually ate was two minute noodles – but I’m not offended if someone says that mushrooms are “meaty”, in fact, it remains a useful term. They are meaty, in that they have heft and cellular density, they’re comfortable in a starring role and their flavour is savoury, pure and inarguable. It would be wonderful if one day the relationship between meat and the adjective “meaty” was entirely etymological, by which I mean, we know it once referred to dead animals and now it refers to vegetables but remains informed by that memory – at least I think that’s what I mean – and till that day comes where we high-five with the cows and skip merrily with the lambs in the fields and know every chicken in the world on a first-name basis, one way to get that ball rolling is to just…eat more mushrooms. Or any other so-called meaty vegetables.
For example, this recipe for Green Garlic Oyster Mushrooms. If the creaturely spore-cloud forest-floor aspect of buttons and portobellos leaves you disquieted, oyster mushrooms may just be your gateway fungus. Their fan-shaped bods have a calmer, more subtle flavour and their texture once cooked is hearty and chewy, more so than you’re expecting. Unfortunately I’ve never seen oyster mushrooms in any chain supermarkets in New Zealand but if you have an Asian supermarket within a reasonable radius they should be available there – that’s where I found mine and bought a bag the size of my head just to be safe.
In the recipe I have for you today, these oyster mushrooms are roasted till crisped at the edges then smothered in a smashed up mixture of herbs, pumpkin seeds, lime, olive oil, double garlic in both shoot and clove form, and mushroom soy sauce (for synergy! And also because it’s unbelievably delicious.) It’s sticky and messy and oily and salty and pinging with exuberant greenness, an absolute feast of garlic flavour without burning your throat or making your eyes water. And the texture – there’s crunch, there’s that magic chewiness combined with a silky yielding quality in every mouthful.
This dish is versatile: you can eat the mushrooms as they are, or force them into a veg-and-three-veg tableau, or drape them on top of rice or stir them through pasta or divide them between tacos; I imagine they’d be great clamped between a bread roll as a kind of verdant sloppy joe, they’d definitely be perfect with polenta in any format. I didn’t have any leftovers but I know in my heart these mushrooms will be incredible cold the next morning, which in turn leads me to suspect they would, freshly cooked, also be wonderful in any kind of breakfast-related capacity – alongside a scramble, on toast, as part of a big fry-up. And while this recipe won’t work the same without using the oyster variety, I definitely wouldn’t turn down button mushrooms fried till very golden brown before adding this same green sauce to the pan and letting it sizzle till it feels done.
Mushrooms, wrote Alicia Kennedy in her newsletter edition devoted to them, “help us to remember the role of our food in the life cycle of the planet.” She continued: “here is food, freely available, fruiting as an expression of waste and decay. The earth gives even in death.” Who could resist such a metal description? Truly the food of mavericks and heroes!
Green Garlic Oyster Mushrooms
Sticky and garlicky, these roasted mushrooms smothered in green sauce are so delicious and super versatile. Use the flared, fan-shaped oyster mushrooms for this recipe – save any thick stems or the King variety for another day. Recipe by myself.
- 500g oyster mushrooms (more is fine)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup flour (or you can use cornflour/cornstarch)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
- pinch salt
- 1/2 a bunch garlic shoots (roughly 1 cup, chopped)
- 3 fat garlic cloves
- a handful of curly parsley – about 1 cup loosely packed sprigs
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
- zest and juice of one lime
- 1 tablespoon mushroom soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, extra
1: Set your oven to 200C/400F and find a shallow-sided roasting tray – if the sides of the dish are too high the mushrooms will struggle to get crispy. I used one of those trays which comes with the oven and slots into the side runners to create a shelf. (If you’ve only got a high-sided oven dish and really need these mushrooms I’m sure they’ll end up still tasting good but I just want to mentally prepare you.) Drizzle two tablespoons of the first measure of olive oil on the tray.
2: Brush any dirt off the mushrooms with a paper towel or pastry brush and shred the larger mushrooms in half. Toss the mushrooms with the flour, salt, and white pepper and arrange them in one layer on the roasting dish. Alas, they will shrink, so don’t worry if it looks a little crowded at this point. Drizzle over the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and roast the mushrooms for twenty minutes, turning once halfway through. If your oven is anything like mine the mushrooms on the outer edges will crisp up and the mushrooms in the middle will stay serenely un-crisp, I advise re-arranging while also turning them over so everyone gets a go.
3: While the mushrooms are in the oven, make your green sauce. Roughly chop the garlic shoots into short lengths and drop them into a food processor along with the peeled garlic cloves, parsley, thyme leaves, pumpkin seeds, lime zest and juice, mushroom soy sauce and olive oil. Pulse briskly till the ingredients merge into a chunky salsa-type arrangement – you absolutely don’t want this pureed, but everything should leave smaller than it came in.
4: Remove the tray of mushrooms from the oven and spoon the green sauce evenly over them, tossing a little to get everything combined. As I said, the mushrooms will have significantly shrunk, but still spread them out into one even layer as opposed to piling them up. Return the tray to the oven for another ten to fifteen minutes, till the mushrooms are sticky and garlicky and at one with their sauce.
Serve these mushrooms however you like, whatever you do will be correct but will also affect how many servings there are – as a main this would serve two, but as a smaller part of something else it could definitely serve four. If you’re lucky enough to be alone, I wouldn’t reduce the quantities, just make it as is and enjoy your bounty of mushroom leftovers.
- Garlic shoots are usually available at Asian supermarkets – which is also where I found the oyster mushrooms – but if you can’t get hold of them, substitute a few spring onions instead and add a couple of extra garlic cloves.
- The mushroom soy sauce (again, easily found at any Asian supermarket) makes all the difference – my favourite brand is Suree, I genuinely have to hold myself back from just drinking it. I know this sounds like the sort of exaggeration you’d expect from a food blog but I never exaggerate!! But if you can’t find it just use regular soy sauce or Maggi sauce instead.
- You can use any other nut or seed instead of pumpkin but I liked the green-on-green – of course if you have pistachios, that would be wonderful, but pumpkin seeds are significantly cheaper, so.
Distopian Dream Girl by Built to Spill, as sun-drenched and delicious as a shaved ice covered in blue syrup.
Back to Life (However Do You Want Me) by Soul II Soul. This is one of the first songs I heard on the radio where I was like damn, this is living, you know? Where I was aware of real-life music and not just pandering sing-song children’s stuff which I was generally suspicious of anyway. And no wonder it hit me so, Back To Life is a perfect song and Caron Wheeler’s voice is a dream, so is the airy, mellow production and it still sounds like the promise of a bigger world out there.
Rhythm of Life by Sammy Davis Junior from the film adaptation of the Broadway musical Sweet Charity. His star power is unreal and this song is so fantastic and euphoric and unhinged and my only fault with it is that the chorus should appear more than twice, oh well, guess I’ll just have to watch it thirty times in a row.
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