A Fungus Among Us

20 Apr

While I am thoroughly enjoying expanding my palette and cooking technique with Oregon’s abundance of fresh fruit and veg, there is one thing I’ve had a hinkering for that hasn’t gone away: authentic Asian flavors.  I think the craving started when my sister-in-law mentioned Chinese take-out to me, and it’s been stuck in my head (and wanting to be in my belly) since then.  There is something so unique and immediately recognizable about the sweet and salty, spicy and tangy, heat-engulfed-wok-fired food that just can’t be satiated by any other flavor.

Southern California has some amazing Asian restaurants, one of my favorites being a fast-food French/Vietnamese joint that constantly has a line out the door.  Their food is always incredibly fresh, delicious, and has that distinctive Vietnamese flavor with classic French technique that makes every bite worth the wait.  My students would come to school with bags of sandwiches and pastries from this restaurant and would have to wave off the flock of other children almost flying towards them to do “tradesies,” ditching their own bento boxes full of homemade and very authentic Lo Mein and Kimchi.  Having this craving while being hundreds of miles away really only made the craving worse.

So at 6:00pm last Sunday night, after fighting the onset of an I’m-going-to-take-over-your-immune-system-the-minute-you-least-except-it cold, I got off my butt to tackle my umami flavored craving.  In this case, it was the Mushroom Dumplings nestled in a rich broth that did the trick.

One ingredient that is hunted and harvested year-round in these parts also happens to be one of my favorites: mushrooms.  While shroom and truffle hunting has become the newest trendy food fad recently, it’s been around in the culinary world for decades.  With our cool, moist, climate those little fungis grow, well, like a fungus.

Our last trip to Eugene to our favorite little local and gourmet food shop yielded two full bags of fresh Shiitakes and giant Portabellas.  Last week I used the Shiitakes in an easy butter and white wine braised warm mushroom salad, so Sunday night was left with the biggest, meatiest, deepest flavored mushroom of the non-poisonous mushroom world.  While you may think my Shiitakes would have been better in this Asian inspired dish, you may be correct in thinking towards tradition.  But, I wanted the depth that Portabellas impart, and their sturdiness to hold up and give a rich flavor to my broth, so I ditched tradition… (and it’s what I had ready to use!).

So between sneezing fits, and hand-washing, I brushed, de-stemmed, de-gilled, and chopped my mushrooms, and lovingly threw them into my favorite pot with sauteed onions and garlic.  The best thing about this dish is the dumpling filling comes from the same veg used to make the stock.  So the layers of the same flavor vary from fresh and bright (inside the dumpling), to dark and rich (within the broth).  I also find the repetitive folding and assembling of dumplings quite therapeutic (until I get over-zealous and over-fill one, thus causing a blowout of pureed mushroom filling to spill out on the board.  That was not so therapeutic).

Despite the deep mushroom flavor, this meal is quite light, and will definitely satisfy any umami cravings.  The recipe below is how I make it – meaning, spicy (Rob’s spice level is not quite the same as mine, and while he grumbled about his “mouth on fire,” he still ate the whole bowl).  If you don’t care for spiciness, lessen the amount of Sriracha sauce used.  Otherwise, get your chopstick fingers back in shape, slurp up, and enjoy!

Mushroom Dumplings in Mushroom Sauce (serves 4) 

  • 4 large Portabella mushrooms, cleaned, stems and gills removed, and roughly chopped 
  • 1/2 large white onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 c low sodium chicken broth (or use veggie stock for an even more earthy flavor) 
  • 4 c water
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp Sriracha sauce
  • juice 1/2 a lemon
  • about 5-6 basil leaves
  • 1 small package of wonton wrappers (about 24) 
  • 1 c shelled, cooked, edamame (optional) 
  • 5 ice cubes
  • vegetable oil
  • s&p 

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, saute the onion and garlic in the vegetable oil.  Season with a pinch of s&p.  Add the mushrooms, 1 tbsp of soy sauce, Sriracha, and lemon juice.  Season with a bit more pepper.  Saute until softened, about 5 minutes.  Transfer 3/4 of the veg mixture to a food processor, and let sit and cool for a minute before processing. 

Add liquids and the rest of the soy sauce and the basil leaves, and bring the pot to a boil.  Bring down to a simmer, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes.  

Meanwhile, process mushrooms until almost smooth (it should look the texture of a chunky pesto, not a smooth puree).  To assemble the dumplings, put 1 tsp of mushroom filling in the center of a wonton wrapper, and wet the edges with water-wet fingertips.  Fold the opposite corners over and crimp/fold edges together to close (make sure there are no air bubbles).  Really, you can make whatever shape – even a ravioli shape – just make sure they are closed tightly.  In a large hot pan with a thin layer of vegetable oil, quickly pan-fry the dumplings.  When the wontons just turn translucent, add 5 ice cubes to the pan and cover, to steam the dumplings.  Remove dumplings from pan and transfer to a plate. 

To finish the broth, strain out the solids (the leftover mushrooms, onion, garlic, and basil) and return to the pot.  Add in the edamame, if using, and cook for a quick 2-3, just to heat them through.  

Place 5-6 dumplings in a shallow bowl, and pour over some of the mushroom broth.  


One Response to “A Fungus Among Us”

  1. Lance Benton April 21, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    Another great post. We’ll have to try this next fall when the Chantarelles are in. We normally pick our own but Edna has some great sources thru local pickers. r/LOB

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