Foraging for mushrooms, indeed any wild urban food, is a romantic notion for the cook. There are treasures to be found out there on the fringes of the city for the patient and knowledgeable hunter. Alas, not for me. Still, peeling back the plastic film on my pretty city-reared oysters, trundled home in their polystyrene tray, there is a fragrant hint, however mild, of those earthy, cool places. At the risk of repeating myself (but nevertheless forging right on ahead), oyster mushrooms rate Very Highly on my fungi-lovin’ list. It’s the way those edges crisp to gold, just so, in the pan. Or perhaps it’s that soft, velvet tactility. Creatures of the dark with delicate, sensuous gills, and, as such, treated in my kitchen with a little reverence.
Indoors, in the kitchen at least, the cool and damp are kept at bay. Wrapped up in ugg boots and a checked flannelette shirt, I’m cheerfully embracing my inner bogan (oh go on, I know you’re curious). The nights are closing in. April, thankfully, provides lots of goodies for the infinitely more tasteful world of cooking. Loathe though I am to show favouritism, the quiet bridging seasons, hanging between their dynamic, bolder siblings are what hold the fabric of the culinary year together. Each has its bounty and unique beauty, but of them all, it’s autumn I always fall for. Head over heels. Mushrooms, year round favourites, taste just right, right now. After all, we’re knee-deep in what is quintessentially the mushroom season.
Though not technically a salad, while browsing through Peter Gordon’s slightly irritating book of salads ‘tother day it struck me that the very definition of the word has changed dramatically. So, if Mr Gordon can call something that involves loads of exotic ingredients and hours of prepping time A Salad, I can call this (far easier) dish one, too.
Warm oyster mushroom and leek salad – for 2
A light meal, good for a lunch. To be honest, it’s probably better described as a stir-fry, but will you indulge me just this once? The leeks themselves are surprising – like a tangle of egg and gluten-free noodles - and are a perfect way to add one more serving of vegetables to your day.
4 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes
300g (10 oz) of oyster mushrooms
2 leeks, trimmed of dark greens
2 tablespoons of pale sesame oil
2 fat cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon of sesame seeds, toasted
Handful of coriander (cilantro) or parsley, chopped
Small knob of ginger, finely grated (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon of hoi sin sauce, thinned with 1 tablespoon of water
Drain the shiitakes and snip away the stems with scissors. Slice the caps thinly. Slice off and discard the stalks from the oyster mushrooms and tear any large ones in half.
Halve the leeks, wash, dry well and cut into matchsticks. Warm 1 tablespoon of the oil in a frying pan over a high heat. Cook the garlic for 30 seconds, add the leeks and stir fry for a further 2 minutes. Toss in the toasted seeds followed by coriander. Remove to a plate and set aside.
Warm the remaining tablespoon of oil in the same frying pan over a medium heat and toss in the shiitakes. Stir fry for 1 minute, then add the oyster mushrooms. Sprinkle in some salt, lower the heat and let them sizzle away gently for about 5 minutes, turning them individually from time to time to evenly crisp. Add the ginger, stir and cook for a further 30 seconds. It’s all about the ginger here, so don’t let it burn.
Arrange the leeks in small mounds, drizzle over the hoi sin mixture and top with the mushrooms. Garnish with extra coriander leaves and serve warm-ish.