ALTHOUGH mushrooms are available all year round, autumn and mushrooms seem to go together particularly well.
Specialty mushroom growers have spoilt us for choice in many outlets, particularly in gourmet supermarkets and boutique farmers' markets, and mushroom soup is a year-round favourite.
However, fresh isn't always the answer. When I recently served straw mushrooms in a spicy Thai-style soup my guests were full of questions as to what kind of mushrooms they were and where they came from. The short answer was: from a tin.
Straw mushrooms are a common ingredient in Asian cooking, their distinctive texture and woody flavour making them a favourite, particularly in stir-fries.
The labels of canned straw mushrooms usually state whether the contents are peeled or unpeeled. The unpeeled mushrooms are stronger in taste. Dried straw mushrooms can be found in specialty Asian stores and have a more intense flavour. Here's the soup that raised all the questions. It's a much-loved dish from Thailand.
- TOM YUM GOONG (HOT AND SOUR PRAWN SOUP)
- 3 large stalks fresh lemongrass
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 12 fresh kaffir lime leaves
- 1 cup tinned straw mushrooms, drained
- 2-4 tbs Thai chilli paste (nam prik pao), according to taste
- 225g medium prawns, peeled and de-veined
- 1 1/2 tbs fish sauce
- 4-6 green chillies, stemmed and bruised with side of a knife
- 3 spring onions, cut into 2cmlengths
- Juice of 1 lime
- 2 cups cooked rice (optional)
Trim the tip and root ends of the lemongrass stalks and remove and discard the tough outer layer. Usinga meat mallet or the side of a knife, bruise the lemongrass to flatten it; tie the stalks into a knot; set aside.
Pour stock into a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the lemongrass and half the lime leaves, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until fragrant, about 5 minutes.
Remove and discard the lemongrass and lime leaves and increase heat to high. Stir in the mushrooms and chilli paste, to taste, and boil for one minute; add prawns and fish sauce and cook until the prawns are just cooked through, about 45 seconds. Combine the remaining lime leaves with the chillies, spring onions and lime juice in a serving bowl or tureen. Pour the soup into the serving bowl, stir, and serve with rice, if you like.
BRAISED STRAW MUSHROOMS IN SOY SAUCE
Rinse 225g straw mushrooms under water. Pat dry with paper towel. Heat 1 tbs vegetable oil in a medium frying pan and saute two cloves of chopped garlic until fragrant. Add the mushrooms, stir quickly then season with salt and pepper to taste, 1 tsp sugar and 3 tbs soy sauce. Saute until some of the liquid starts to evaporate. Remove from the heat, spoon into serving dish and garnish with chopped coriander. Serves four.
BROCCOLI WITH STRAW MUSHROOMS
Cut 600-800g broccoli into pieces. This will help to cook it evenly and get more flavour from the broccoli. Rinse 300g of straw mushrooms in cold water and cut in half. Into a wok or frying pan heated to high, drizzle 2 tbs vegetable or peanut cooking oil and wait for about 30 seconds. Put the broccoli in and stir the pieces for 40-50 seconds. Season the broccoli with salt and pepper to taste and add 4-8 tbs water in the wok to create some steam. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for 5 minutes. The steam will cook the broccoli. Don't let it get too soft as you still need to fry the mushrooms. Stir in the straw mushrooms for another minute, season to taste again if necessary. Serves 4-6.
COOKING WITH STRAW MUSHROOMS
1. Drain and rinse the tinned mushrooms thoroughly before using. Discard the fluid.
2. The appearance and taste of the dried mushrooms are quite different from those of the canned varieties. Even after a cool-water rinse, their strong flavour persists.
3. If you don't use an entire tin of mushrooms, store the remaining portion in fresh water; it will keep in the refrigerator for several days.