Nigel Slater is a food writer’s food writer. The prolific British author’s famously brief recipe introductions read like haikus: “Roasted pumpkin. Smooth, silky mash.” “Autumn mushrooms, ribbons of pasta, a breath of aniseed.” “Crisp pastry. Warm banana. The scent of maple syrup.” They remind me of Ruth Reichl’s much-satirized tweets.
He’s a cook’s cook, too, long advocating a seasonal, breezy approach in the kitchen that has endeared him to readers for decades. In Slater’s hands, few recipes seem daunting – and so many seem enticing.
Slater’s latest book is “Greenfeast: Autumn, Winter,” a celebration of simple vegetarian cooking for colder weather – or, as he writes so beautifully, when “our appetite is pricked by the sudden drop in temperature.” This time of year, “more food will come to the table in deep casseroles and pie dishes,” he writes. “I dig out my capacious ladle for a creamed celery root soup as soft as velvet. The temperature of the plates and bowls will change. We want to hold things that warm our hands, a sign of the happiness to come.”
I’ve stuffed plenty of portobello mushrooms in my time and wasn’t necessarily looking for another such recipe, but Slater’s drew me in anyhow. It’s not complicated: You mash chickpeas into a garlicky, lemony, hummus-esque paste, spread it on two upturned mushroom caps, press in more whole chickpeas (and a sprinkling of black and white sesame seeds) and bake. The puree turns silky, and the mushrooms get pleasantly tender while staying steak-like enough that you need a knife and fork.
The chickpeas fit neatly inside, making this quite possibly the only stuffed portobello mushroom dish I’ve ever had, let alone made, that I’d classify as elegant. Perhaps only Slater could manage such a feat.
Portobellos With Chickpeas and Tahini
Adapted from “Greenfeast: Autumn, Winter” by Nigel Slater (Ten Speed Press, 2020).
2 large portobello mushrooms (about 1 pound)
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons ground sumac
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon fine sea salt, or more to taste
One (15-ounce) can no-salt added chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds (optional; may substitute white sesame seeds)
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.
Wipe the heads of the mushrooms with a damp paper towel. Cut out the stems, then place the mushrooms, gill side up, on a rimmed baking sheet. Score the inside of each mushroom all over with the tip of a knife, to allow the oil to penetrate, then drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil onto the mushrooms.
Using a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic, then pound in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, plus the sumac, lemon juice and salt. (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can finely chop or press the garlic and make the paste in a bowl.) Mash half of the chickpeas into the oil and garlic paste. Stir in the tahini, thyme and half of both types of sesame seeds, if using. Taste and season with more salt if needed.
Fill the mushrooms with the chickpea paste, then cover each with the remaining whole chickpeas. Drizzle with the remaining 1 teaspoon of olive oil and scatter with the remaining sesame seeds. Bake for 20 or 30 minutes, until the mushrooms are just tender when pierced with a fork.
Yield: 2 servings
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