Saturday 19 April 2008

NCR Moody Mushroom Stew

I was wondering what to write about my mushroom stew when we sat down to watch the DVD of Control last night. This wonderful film tells the story of the late Ian Curtis, the Mancunian lead singer of post punk band Joy Division. It is a beautiful film shot in black and white by Anton Corbijn who had taken iconic photographs of Curtis before his suicide in 1980.

I first bought a Joy Division album in my early 20s. I was quite taken with the breathtakingly beautiful Love Will Tear Us Apart single. The album disappointed me because the other songs were so different. It has taken me years to learn to appreciate the depth of the passion and the sadness that imbues these songs.

If I dare to be so bold as to make a comparison between the sublime and the stew, this made me think about my journey with mushrooms. To be honest, I was only making mushroom stew for Holler and Lisa’s No Croutons Required event which this month challenges us to make a mushroom soup or salad. I never liked mushroom as a child and never was swayed by the claim that they are meat for vegetarians. I don’t like meat and sometimes feel that the comparison is a little too close for comfort. But I have come to appreciate them more over the years. In fact, I love mushrooms in my meals, but still have reservations about eating them solo.

There is another reason for not being able to work up a lot of enthusiasm for mushrooms, or ‘mushies’ as we often refer to them here. They don’t add much colour to a meal. In fact, too many of them can reduce the most colourful meal to a grey sludge. Grey certainly is not on the list of my favourite colours. Grey is a gloomy rainy day, grim industrial chimneys, soul-destroying high rise flats. Sure, in a salad they can retain an interesting white and black but even then they have to be mollycoddled to prevent them getting slimy. Now, I am sure many of you are protesting that they taste so good, but my reply is that food needs to look appealing to make it near your mouth, and I am sure I don’t need to remind you where mushrooms are grown.

Despite all my prejudices, I decided I was going to challenge myself to find a mushroom soup for this event. A few piqued my interest. I settled on a Mushroom Madeira Stew from the Café Flora Cookbook. The stew attracted me for two reasons: 1) it had carrots, potatoes and peas to give some relief from the grey and from the mushroom taste, and 2) I really enjoyed pairing mushrooms and sherry in quesadillas recently.

The combination of flavours in the soup is superb and I would make it again. It was a little thin for my liking and so I used the handheld blender to puree a little of it which helped thicken it. My main problem with it was the … ahem … mushrooms. I sliced them thickly and didn’t really fry them much and they were a little chunky. In future, I will slice the mushrooms more thinly and make sure they are thoroughly fried before adding the roux.

Then after we’d finished the soup, we sat down to watch Control and as I watched it I couldn’t help comparing the black and white hues to the mushrooms. I am no Anton Corbijn, but I decided it would be fun to make my photos black and white just to make a point about their colourlessness. And you know, it has convinced me that mushrooms do have a kind of bleak beauty.

Mushroom Sherry Stew
(from the Café Flora Cookbook)
Serves 4

- 3 tbsp oil
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- ½ tbsp salt
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 400g (2½ cups) Portobello mushrooms (or cremini or shitake or a combination), thickly sliced
- 6 cups vegetable stock, warmed
- 2 large potatoes, diced (approx 2 cups)
- 2 large carrots, diced (approx 1½ cups)
- 1 ½ cups frozen peas
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ cup dry to medium dry sherry (or Madeira or red wine)
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a small frypan and add the flour. Stir over medium high heat for a few minutes until it smells toasted and looks golden brown. Set aside (know as the roux).

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large stockpot and fry onions with salt for about 10 minutes til soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook another minute. Add mushrooms and cook til soft and beginning to release their juices. Add the thyme, parsley, nutritional yeast, and tomato paste and cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the roux and gradually add the stock, stirring frequently, to make sure the roux is blended. Add the potatoes, carrots, peas and bay leaf. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer about 20 minutes. Add the sherry and simmer for no more than an additional 5 minutes. Remove bay leaf, add pepper and check the seasoning. Serve hot with bread or salad.

On the Stereo:
Still: Joy Division


  1. That second photo is actually very beautiful! And your stew sounds yummy... !

  2. Johanna, black & white does make an excellent statement here. I guess I'm strange though because I like rainy days (not 30 in a row though) and I love mushrooms.
    Your stew looks wonderful. Great idea to thicken it.

  3. Thanks for your entry Johanna. Love the black and white images too :) The roundup will appear in a few days.

  4. Love that you did this in black and white! I totally agree with everything your wrote. For the longest time mushrooms were the only veg-food I wouldn't eat, I hated them, their smell, their texture and their taste. However, they kept turning up on vegetarian plates in restaurants and at friends homes where I had no choice but to eat the evil things as they were prepared "especially for me". About a year ago I decided to "teach" myself to like them and started incorporating them into my diet. Today I do sort of enjoy most of them but still do not like the white button or the portobello.

    Good for you for preparing a mushroom stew!

  5. I think the film broke my heart, so dark and beautiful it was. You know, the black and white mushies make lovely images. Might have a play with B&W a bit more...

    '...and I am sure I don’t need to remind you where mushrooms are grown' He he!!

  6. thanks Ann - I agree the second photo is the best - black and white really requires a good contrast!

    thanks Half Cups - I confess I was a little tongue in cheek in this post as I do like rainy days (although I found the constant grey skies in Edinburgh a bit much)

    thanks Lisa - looking forward to some great mushroom recipes to inspire me to love them more

    thanks LisaRene - glad I am not the only one with reservations about mushrooms - but it is interesting what you can teach yourself to love

    thanks Lucy - the film is so sad isn't it! Black and white photography can be so beautiful when done well - but it does take a different approach to colour and contrast which I am not terribly experienced in - would love to see you do some black and white!

  7. Love what you did with the photos here--great idea!

    I do think mushrooms can be pretty "meaty"--especially portobellos. I have a grilled portobello "steak" at our favorite restaurant when we go there--it's really quite delicious! Glad you ended up liking the soup. :)

  8. thanks Ricki - I see portobellos done a la steak and it never enthuses me but this soup was excellent - even better the second night

  9. This post made me laugh! I think that the black and white shows off the mushrooms well - their moody, don't care what you think of me nonchalance. Personally I love them, but there are defintely dishes where they shine and others where they're a bit 'meh'. I hope you find one you love soon.

  10. Yum Johanna, this soup looks marvelous! I am into veggie soups or stews these days for lunch. I bet the addition of sherry adds a great flavor.
    Photos are super !!!!

  11. thanks Lysy - I think part of my problem is that they can look so meh and taste so good!

    thanks Deb - mushrooms and sherry are definitely a good combination


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