A trip to Princeton meant shopping at two wonderful stores: the Princeton Record Exchange, for vinyl (Fleetwood Mac: Tusk!) and the Whole Earth Center, for foodstuffs. When I saw the bulk bins gleaming through the windows of Whole Earth, I became very excited. Bulk maple syrup! I was in heaven. All I meant to purchase that day was tea and tempeh, but ended up splurging on several gourmet ingredients: black beluga lentils, Arborio rice, a daikon radish, and one of my favorite mushrooms - maitake!
Having recently read an article in Mother Earth News about the incredible healing properties of gourmet mushrooms, when I saw this beautiful maitake in the produce section I danced for joy. Maitake aren't called 'the dancing mushroom' for nothing.
But what to make? Mushrooms only last a few days, so I didn't have much time to decide. My initial google search turned up a scrumptious-looking recipe from Vedge Restaurant, but as there were two boxes of half-empty quinoa pasta in the cupboard, I decided to invent some gourmet mac'n'cheese.
For the sauce, I soaked 1/2 cup of cashews in 1/2 cup of water until soft. Using my immersion blender, I puréed the cashews with their water, 1/2 cup of cooked chickpeas and 1 teaspoon of tamari. Next I started the pasta boiling. Then I caramelized 1 thinly sliced red onion in 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over low heat with a little ground black pepper and nutmeg. I tore the maitake into bite sized pieces and sautéed them with the onion for a bit. Next I added the cashew-chickpea purée, 1/4 cup nutritional yeast and 1/2 cup almond milk, and left the sauce to simmer. Once the noodles were al dente, I dropped a bunch of baby spinach into the pot to steam, drained it with the pasta and plated it. The thick, creamy sauce went on top, with a little black truffle salt to garnish.
Behold, Cashew Onion Cream Sauce with Maitake Mushrooms over Quinoa Pasta with Baby Spinach!
I could feel a love of mushrooms coming over me. I still had that Arborio rice from Whole Earth, so I bought some Crimini mushrooms for a risotto.
I only have prep photos of this dish to show you, because I made it to bring to a formal dinner party and felt it would be rude to snap food pics during the meal. Trust me, though, it was delicious.
If you're a guest at an omnivorous dinner, consider passing this risotto around. Rice and mushrooms pair well with meat dishes, and will tempt meat eaters to taste of the vegan deliciousness. It's a hearty dish all on its own, perfectly complemented by an arugula salad.
Crimini mushrooms, also known as "brown button," or "baby bella," are easy to find at the grocery store. They are firmer in texture than white mushrooms, and their rich, earthy flavor excite the umami taste buds.
There are two secrets to perfect risotto: hot soup stock and constant stirring.
Keep some broth simmering on a back burner; adding stock that is already hot means you get risotto a lot sooner. I made my own vegetable stock for this batch, using the odds and ends left over from making another batch of fire cider (onion skins, parsley stems, citrus rinds, ginger peel).
To achieve perfect chewy consistency, stir constantly. Risotto comes out best if you use a deep, heavy pot, some cast iron or Le Creuset. I use my cast-iron wok, which distributes the heat evenly and is deeper than my skillet, resulting in perfect risotto.
Mushroom Leek Risotto
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large leek
- 2 cloves garlic
- 8 ounces Crimini mushrooms
- 3 cups Arborio rice
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, to garnish
- lemon wedges, to garnish
- Slice the ends off the leeks and cut in half lengthwise. Rinse well, checking between layers for dirt. Wash, de-stem and slice the mushrooms. Mince the stems and the parsley. Slice the garlic cloves razor-thin.
- Bring the vegetable stock to a boil in a saucepan; reduce heat to a simmer.
- On medium low, heat the olive oil. Sizzle the garlic slices, leeks and mushrooms with salt & pepper, until tender. Add the risotto and stir til transparent, then add 1 cup of the hot stock.
- Stir constantly til the stock evaporates, gradually adding more as needed to make the risotto soft.
- Garnish with parsley and lemon wedges to serve.