I tried unsuccessfully to take Michael Natkin’s book Herbivoracious out from the library, so instead I just bit the bullet and bought it. My daughter is a Mac-n-Cheese-and-sometimes-a-little-bacon vegetarian and I thought I might expand her repertoire.
In the five months I’ve owned the book though, I’ve only turned to one very brilliant page, which is now stained, crinkled and waterlogged (or more accurately, tea-logged). I’m sure I will eventually get to the tons of amazing (and as promised “preachless”) vegetarian recipes, but I can’t seem to move myself away from page 80.
Roasted Maitake Mushrooms in Smoky Tea Broth has become a new comfort staple around The Muddy Kitchen. Maitake mushrooms, when roasted up like this, perfume the kitchen with a scent as penetrating as incense burning in a temple. Even my Mac-n-Cheeser enjoys it. The only challenge is not munching on all the crunchy maitake bits before they make it into the soup. They are as tempting as fresh-made chips.
I’ve never found Maitake, aka “Hen of the Woods,” in my own backyard but it’s not for lack of trying. They apparently like to grow in the same ‘hood as their shroom-cousin, “Chicken of the Woods“, which would lead you to believe they’re out there in droves. But despite heavy-duty searching with my stepson “The Chanterelle Whisperer,” I’ve never seen any maitake in situ; I’ve only seen them in Whole Foods.
Because of its intensely smoky flavor, Lapsang Souchong is a tea that I find too much to drink on its own, but have used it as a cooking ingredient for years. The idea of it as a broth is perfect. It partners up with the earthy maitake exquisitely.
To me, like the “liquid smoke” my mother added to BBQ sauce when I was a kid or the Smoked Sea Salt I always have somewhere in the cupboard but forget about, Lapsang Souchong is more like a spice. It instantly adds smoke without hauling up the smoker from Keith’s barn. I flavor my gravlax with it as well.
This simple, super-easy soup is an incredible idea and a satisfying combination. You’ll want to find fresh, fragrant, fat ‘heads’ of maitake if possible. I’ve made this with lifeless looking specimens from the grocery store and was sorely disappointed.
I’ve only changed one thing in my approach: 1/2 cup of bok choy stems just don’t do it for me on the ‘green stuff’ front so I sliver and add whatever is sprouting up in the garden, in this case, chard. I sneak in about twice as much as Natkin suggests. I hope Chef won’t mind the switcheroo.
MICHAEL NATKIN’S ROASTED MAITAKE MUSHROOMS IN SMOKY TEA BROTH
1/2 cup finely diced bok choy stems (Ha! Right!)
1 tbsp water for steaming
1 lb fresh maitake mushrooms
3 tbsp vegetable oil (I prefer peanut oil here)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp Lapsang Souchong tea
2 cups of boiling water
1 tbsp tamari
Toasted sesame oil
2 tsp finely sliced scallions
1. Preheat oven to 450 using convection or 475 without.
2. Steam the bok choy (or your slivered veggie of choice) quickly in the tbsp of water, strain and set aside. Find four pretty bowls for you and ichi ni san lucky guests.
3. Divide the mushrooms into 4 portions (leaving the chunks as big as possible) and place on a baking sheet. Toss with vegetable oil (or peanut oil) and sprinkle with salt. Roast until fragrant (the word is totally apt here) and beginning to crisp up along the edges. About 20 mins.
4. Steep the tea in the boiling water for 5 minutes (like you’re making regular tea). Strain and add the tamari.
5. When the mushrooms are ready, place one portion per pretty bowl. Add the bok choy (or veggie o’ choice), scallions and broth. Drizzle with toasted sesame oil. You might also try to change it up – maybe a pumpkin seed or hemp oil could be nice too.
Enjoy while looking out the window, perusing the seed catalogs, and counting the days until spring.
Take your boots off before you come in here!