Sunday, 5 August 2012

Grilled Portobellos, Half a Dozen Ways!

I am definitely a summer creature: fresh fruits and veggies all over the Atwater market, lots of glorious sunlight, long bike rides, sandals, sangria lazily sipped on Plateau terraces, ice cream shops open until 11 pm... Yup, summer kicks the other seasons' asses. Hard.

And who says summer says grilled stuff! We don't have a barbecue for the balcony yet, but I do have a sturdy and reliable grilling pan, so I don't miss out all that much.

Portobellos are as meaty and satisfying as vegetables go. They have an amazing chewy, satisfying texture that makes them perfect for almost every dish in which you like mushrooms. I love the earthy juiciness of a well cooked mushroom, and this way of prepping them is one of my all-time favorites.

These beautiful portobellos are wonderful, not just because they are delicious and ridiculously easy to make, but also because they are so versatile: you can eat them as a gorgeous side-dish, to beef up your favorite salad, toss them with fresh pasta, a bit of garlic and olive oil, make portobello burgers (as a vegan alternative to hamburgers, or just because they are meaty and juicy: see below for the ultimate vegan burger fest!), or slice them up and stuff them in crepes, wraps and sandwiches!

For the scientifically minded, a portobello is basically a mature cremini, and they are full of vitamin D, potassium and antioxidants. Mushrooms are also believed to give a big boost to the immune system, and some research have shown them to have anti-cancer properties. As if you needed more reasons to savor these succulent grilled mushrooms! 

It gets better: use a different marinade, and give those mushrooms a whole new world of flavor, so that they can go with any type of meal! This recipe is definitely a golden one in my little collection. I found it in "Appetite for Reduction", by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, confirming that the woman is a culinary genius. Here is the basic marinade and technique, followed by a few other of her marinades (that you can also use for tofu, if you so wish) and my own favorite Asian mix. All of which are awesomesauces, of course.

4 large portobello mushroom caps, stems removed
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)

Place the portobellos gill side up in a rimmed baking sheet or Pyrex dish. Mix all the marinade ingredients together and spoon over the portobellos. Let marinate for at least half an hour, spooning the marinade over the mushrooms every 10 minutes or so.

Preheat a grilling pan over medium heat, and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Place the portobellos gills up on the grill and cover. Cook for 5 minutes, basting the mushrooms with marinade occasionally. Use tongs to turn the mushrooms 90 degrees to make cross hatched grill marks; cook for about 3 more minutes. Flip over, cover and cook for 3 more minutes.

You know the mushrooms are done when you press the center with tongs and it’s very soft and juicy. To serve, let them sit on a cutting board for a few minutes to cool off, and slice them into the desired shape or size (or leave whole, if making portobello burgers). Serve warm.

It was something like a million degrees with high humidity when I made those, so we had them with a refreshing Greek salad, but in the winter, mash potatoes or rice, over which you spoon the leftover marinade, is an amazing simple meal idea.

I like the moderate seasoning of this basic marinade, because it really allows the mushroom's flavor to shine through, and it tastes great with virtually everything. Add a teaspoon of dry basil or dry oregano if you want to season it a bit more.

Here are a few more ways to flavor the portobellos if you want them to go perfectly well with a more thematic meal. When making any of those marinades, or any marinade that needs to be poured over, I suggest mixing your ingredients together in your largest measuring cup or in a bowl with a pouring beak: it will prevent many splashy messes!

For an Indian feast, use the following marinade:

3/4 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons curry powder
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

Blend the ingredients well, and use as directed.

For Chimichurri portobellos:

1/4 cup roughly chopped scallions
2 cloves garlic
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro
1 cup loosely packed fresh parsley
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup vegetable broth

Chop the scallions and garlic in a food processor, add the remaining ingredients and puree until smooth. Use as instructed in the recipe above.

BBQ 'shrooms:

4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3/4 cup vegetable broth
2 teaspoons arrowroot dissolved in 1/4 cup of water
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate
3 tablespoons agave syrup or maple syrup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Whisk all the ingredients in a bowl, making sure the tamarind is dissolved, and use as instructed.

Simple buffalo marinade:

1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup cayenne hot sauce
6 cloves garlic, monced
2 teaspoons dry oregano

Mix the ingredients together and pour over the portobellos.

And last, but not least, my Asian marinade (see it work magic on tofu here):

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 limes, juiced
1 thumb-size piece of ginger, peeled and minced
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
Sesame seeds, to sprinkle

If you are going to use them for burgers and sandwiches, pair them with some arugula, juicy tomatoes, red onion slices and some Dijon mustard and/or a nice hummus: it makes for a very satisfying and flavorful bite! You can also cheat and add cheese and bacon; that will make you naughty, but I'll forgive you.

Those burgers are amazing, and they deserve an equally amazing side: oven-baked onion rings!

2 large sweet onions
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup cold almond milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 teaspoons olive oil

Slice the onions into 3/4 inch thick rings. Separate the rings and place in a bowl. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, spray with nonstick cooking spray and set aside. In one bowl, put the flour and cornstarch. Add half the almond milk and stir vigorously with a fork to dissolve. Add the rest of the almond milk and the apple cider vinegar, and stir to incorporate, then set aside. In another bowl, mix the bread crumbs and the salt, drizzle with olive oil and mix up well with fingertips. Dip each onion into the flour, letting the excess drip off. Transfer to the bread crumbs bowl and use the other hand to sprinkle bread crumbs over the onion to coat completely. Carefully transfer each onion to a single layer on the baking sheet.

Make sure you use one hand for the wet batter and one for the dry batter. Spray the rings with nonstick cooking spray and bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Flip and bake them for another 6 to 10 minutes. They should be varying shades of brown and crisp.

Grab a brew, put on a Red Hot Chili Pepper record, and enjoy barbecue season!

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