February: Mushroom stew

Nigel Slater adorably refers to this recipe in Notes from the Larder as “a little brown stew for a little brown day.” I had to get my man out of the house for this one–no mushroom haters allowed–so I cooked for my friends Malvina and Crystal instead. They were kind enough to be my taste-testers and I hope I made them happy!

This recipe is blessedly simple. A pound or so of fresh and dried mushrooms sauteed with onion, garlic, and tomato paste and mixed with grains. The recipe calls for pearled spelt, but I couldn’t find any (even at Whole Foods, to my surprise) so I substituted tri-color Israeli couscous. Really, this would work with pretty much any grain or pasta.

The recipe can be found here. But here are the basics:


Cook whatever grain you’re using and set aside. (My couscous dried out and clumped a bit while I was cooking the mushrooms, but it was fine once it was stirred in with everything else towards the end.)

Rehydrate the dried mushrooms in hot water.

Chop and saute a yellow onion, then add garlic.

Slice the fresh mushrooms. I used a mix of baby portobellos and Two Guys from Woodbridge shiitake and oyster mushrooms from the Union Square Greenmarket. Add them to the onions, cook until they start to color, then add tomato paste and flour to thicken into a sauce.

Pour in the dried mushrooms, soaking water included, and stir stir stir. 

Important, but optional, step: Have a friend get a picture of you rocking a wooden spoon like nobody’s business.

Season with salt, pepper, and half a teaspoon of red chili flakes (do not casually decide to double this last ingredient like I did–you will regret it). Once the liquid comes to a boil, stir in the couscous (or whatever you’re using) and cook for another ten to fifteen minutes.

Next time, I’ll stick to the deceptively modest-sounding quantity of red pepper–I definitely overdid it on that one. Otherwise, I call this dish an overall success. I also added parmesan and fresh parsley to finish, which I think worked very well.


photo credit: Crystal Rivera