Whipped up in under 30 minutes, packed with B vitamins and essential minerals, plus 30% of your daily fibre needs, these simple Asian-style mushrooms with ginger are just bursting with flavour, and make a fantastically delicious meal at any time of the day!
A while back, while living in deepest, darkest Transylvania, amato mio and I spent a lovely weekend in the delightful medieval city of Sibiu. One evening, as we wandered through the city, were lucky enough to witness a beautiful church service (at least, the part which was held outside). Now, I know what you’re thinking...
I didn’t know you are religious, Nico.
I'm absolutely not (I'm very firmly agnostic) but that doesn’t mean I cannot and do not appreciate the beauty that religion can inspire... Romanian Orthodox services are truly beautiful. Now, it could be that the priest was chanting about hellfire and damnation, and telling everyone they are all depraved sinners... but because my Romanian is not up to par, I was content to just appreciate his sonorous chanting for the way it sounded to my ears! Once the priest and congregation moved inside the church, we moved on, seeking somewhere to dine.
Vegetarian food in Romania
Of course, the trouble with not eating meat in a none-too-wealthy country in Eastern Europe is that in the main, not consuming animals isn’t really a thing. Indeed, given how rural much of the country is, for most people, it’s not even a choice.
In the village we lived in, which was populated by subsistence farmers, humans and animals have a symbiotic relationship; without animals, the people would starve. The same can be said for many places around the world I’ve lived in and visited.
But I digress! In fact, actually, our quest for food digressed too, when we happened upon a wonderful orchestra giving a free open air concert in the city square! Fortunately, there was a plethora of restaurants lining the perimeter of said square... unfortunately, there was either no veggie food or they were dubious ‘international' eateries, serving horribly underwhelming fare.
To eat local food or not!
Something I learned a long time ago is that as a general rule when in a non-G7 country, it's usually best to stick with local cuisine. Not just because of the lack of availability of ingredients but because often, the kitchen staff have no practical experience of the food they're cooking, so have little idea of how it should be.
There are exceptions, of course; in Chiang Mai and Pai there are a couple of pizzerie which dish up amazing pizze... because they're owned by Italian chefs who've trained their local staff, and who import authentic ingredients.
On the flip side, the worst Asian food I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience has been in Croatia and Slovenia!
When you order a thali in your local 'tandoori' place, and discover that it's actually a vegetable patty (made with uniformly diced frozen mixed veg) adrift in a sea of lentil soup, with a serving of sauerkraut on the side of the plate (yes, a plate!), and that the closest any of it has been to a spice in any shape or form is that there's a spice merchant 200m away, you know you're onto a bad thing.
And perhaps worse is that because you don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, you just smile and nod, and tell them it's fine. Then surreptitiously retrieve your travel bottles of Tabasco and Sriracha from your handbag, in order to add at least a little bit of flavour to a meal which originated in the black hole where fun goes to die.
Mind you, Italy's one of the G7, yet the one and only international restaurant I found in Pozzuoli was a sushi bar, which was no earthly good to me!
So, back in Sibiu, we rejected the claims of 'authentic' foreign food, and with them, the extortionate prices being charged, and ventured forth along some smaller streets.
Rubbish veggie eateries!
According to Happy Cow, there were a couple of veggie eateries but... in my experience, barring Asia, no matter where I am in the world, dedicated veggie and vegan places tend to be a) overly expensive, b) overly-full of woo, and c) often bland. Oh yes, and more often than not, raw. Vegan eateries are often the worst offenders!
I don't mind raw food if it's supposed to be raw (e.g. salad or chocolate tart), or if, like my blender soups, it's made with ingredients which don't actually need to be cooked. But having tried it a couple of times out of curiosity, I remain wholly unconvinced by raw 'phad Thai', for example (not least because it's an oxymoron, given that 'phad' means 'fried').
Crossing the Woobicon
And y'know what? I don't want a frickin' salad when I go out for a meal. That's not a treat! I don't want an alkalising, chakra-balancing, detoxifying woo-smoothie-in-a-bowl with rainbow unicorns chanting mantras, and sprinkling fairy dust over my food in order to align my chakras.
And you know what you can do with chia seeds, right? 😉
Gimme real food!
When I go out for a meal, I want food. Real food. Food with flavour. Food that will either be better than I make at home (tall order, I know), or that will inspire me. Even though once or twice I've had a nice burger or two, nothing I have ever had in a dedicated veggie place has fulfilled either of these criteria.
Except in local eateries in Asia.
Why? Because in Asia, there are long-held traditions of eating veggie food, and they're not embracing fashions or fads. The food expertise reflects that.
Veggie food in Sibiu
So, when we were in Sibiu, we decided we weren’t going to look for the two vegetarian eateries (one of which was indeed a raw place... le sigh), we'd do what we usually do, and find a decently-priced onmi café which happened to have 'naturally' veggie food on the menu.
As we wandered, we passed a tiny place, called Capsicum, which had a handwritten chalkboard outside, listing 'Chiang Mai Pork' - obviously that wasn’t something we wanted to eat but it was a surprise to see Chiang Mai mentioned (most places just write 'Thai').
As I pointed it out to amato mio, the owner came out and said hello. I asked if she had anything without meat, etc., and she immediately said,
You are vegetarian? Sure we can make something for you. Come inside because it’s going to rain soon.
(Torrential rain ensued almost as soon as we got inside.)
We met the chef, who said that the mushrooms with ginger (cuiperci cu ghimbir) on the menu were vegan. And just over £5 per person. Yay!
Mushrooms in Eastern Europe
The thing about Romanians is that like most Eastern Europeans, they know mushrooms. And Romania grows a fantastic variety too. So we said yes please, and sat down to wait. I had a local beer, which was lovely, and we chilled out to the fab, somewhat eclectic soundtrack playing in the background.
So how was the food?
Our food arrived shortly after, and I have to admit that the first taste just blew us away. It was gorgeous! Such a perfect balance of flavours. And no heebeegeebee woo in sight. Ha! Just a handful of great ingredients, very simply cooked. The best kind of food, IMNSHO.
As soon as we were back home in Băița a few days later, I felt compelled to recreate it. And have done so many times since. I didn't get the recipe from Capsicum - this is my own take on their dish, according to the notes I made at the time.
(What, you don't make notes when you're savouring an awesome meal in a restaurant or café? Psshhh.)
Anyway my Asian-style mushrooms with ginger are amazing, and I shall always be grateful to Capsicum for inspiring me!
Simple Asian-Style Mushrooms With Ginger
- better than takeout
Because the flavours of this dish hold up so well on their own, I prefer to serve it with some plain steamed rice - trust me, that's all it really needs.
How would you eat these simple mushrooms with ginger?
Simple Asian-Style Mushrooms With Ginger
- 30 g dried black fungus (available from Asian supermarkets or online)
- 30 g dried shiitake mushrooms (available from Asian supermarkets or online)
- 250 g chanterelle mushrooms roughly sliced
- 250 g oyster mushrooms roughly sliced
- 100 g small button mushrooms
- 10 cm piece of ginger, minced (approx. 4")
- 4 tbsp oil (I prefer to use peanut or rice bran)
- 4 tsp sesame oil
- 4 tsp sesame seeds lightly toasted
- 2 large spring onions thinly sliced
- A few fresh coriander/cilantro leaves torn
- Place the black fungus and shiitake into a suitable container, and pour over enough boiling water to cover. Set aside for 20 minutes.
- While the mushrooms are rehydrating, prep the chanterelles and oysters, and wipe the button mushrooms. If they are larger than bite-sized, cut them in half.
- Mince the ginger. You don't need to peel fresh ginger, BTW, especially not when the skin is very thin anyway.
- Slice the spring onions, and set them aside.
- Toast the sesame seeds for a couple of minutes in a dry skillet over a medium heat. Keep them moving so they don't burn. Set aside.
- Place all of the sauce ingredients into a clean jar, screw on the lid, and give it a good shake. Make sure there are no lumps of cornflour. Set aside. (Alternatively, you can whisk them together.)
- Once the black fungus and shiitake have plumped up, drain, and remove as much excess moisture as possible by wrapping in a clean tea towel or some kitchen roll, and gently blotting. Unwrap, and roughly slice the fungus. You can keep the shiitake whole if they are small, if not, cut in half. (Keep the broth as it's full of goodness, and makes a great base for stock.)
- Place the wok over a very high heat, and once it begins to smoke, add the oil.
- Immediately add the minced ginger, and stir-fry for 20 seconds or so.
- Add the button mushrooms, and fry for a couple of minutes, then add all of the other mushrooms, and continue to stir-fry for 5-7 minutes.
- Give the sauce a shake, and add to the wok. Stir-fry for another 3-4 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and become glossy (this is why it's best to use tapioca, not cornflour).
- Turn off the heat, and stir in the sesame oil and all but a few of the spring onions.
- Serve sprinkled with the toasted sesame seeds and the rest of the spring onions.
- Leftovers can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for a day. This recipe doesn't freeze well.
- 1 cup = US cup = 240 ml
- 1 tbsp = US/UK = 15 ml
- 1 fl oz = US = 30 ml