The Washington Post
Crisp, salty, sweet, sour and spicy, shiitake larb is mushroom magic
I’ve been watching the new HBO series “The Last of Us,” which — without giving much away — stars fungi. It pulls at a growing thread in popular culture: the elegant mystery of mushrooms. Some of them can kill us, some of them can cause hallucinations, and some of them are nutritious and delicious and a regular part of our diets.
The photographer and author Andrea Gentl became obsessed with mushrooms as a kid. As an adult, she indulged in her obsession while photographing the dishes chefs created with edible fungi. In her book, “Cooking With Mushrooms,” she presents a cohesive and imaginative treatise on the types of mushrooms we eat. Among the many recipes in the book that caught my eye — including Miso Mushroom Paste, Salt and Pepper Brick Mushrooms and Crispy Rack of Oyster Mushrooms — was this one, for Mushroom Larb.
“Larb hits the sour, salty, sweet and spicy notes that are so specific to Southeast Asia,” Gentl writes. Rather than use the usual chopped or ground meat, she uses chopped mushrooms, roasted until crisp and meaty.
I adapted Gentl’s recipe slightly. First, you’ll use sliced shiitakes here, which crisp nicely in the oven after getting dressed with a touch of oil, minced shallots, sliced lemongrass, chopped makrut lime leaves (if you can find them!), garlic and fish sauce.
Roast the mushrooms at a high temperature and watch as they release their moisture and turn a deep mahogany brown. While that’s happening, make the nuoc cham-inspired sauce. You’ll need lots of fresh lime juice, a bit of fish sauce, brown sugar and some chili-garlic sauce for a touch of heat. Finally, pluck a small handful of mint leaves and tender cilantro sprigs, and arrange leafy lettuce cups on a platter.
To serve, you’ll pile the roasted mushrooms in the lettuce leaves, dress them with some of the sauce, add a few fresh herbs and eat. Much lighter than meatbased larb, Gentl describes this variation as “light as a feather” but with “a serious flavor punch.”
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