Going from the extreme shortages of the Soviet Union, my mother has taken to hoarding food. Though she is consistently critical of my grandmother’s gathering tendencies, she often refuses to admit her own shortcomings. Her fridge is often full of food, her cheese drawer exploding with at least four different types of cheeses, and yogurts line an entire shelf. Cucumbers and carrots rot in the vegetable drawer, forgotten behind a bag of dark-skinned, glossy eggplants which themselves have seen better days. Bread goes stale in the bread box, where she is unable to even turn it into her famous croutons because her long working hours do not coincide with the bread’s expiration dates. There are bags of rice crawling with ants in her cupboards, and teas that I remember buying myself when I was in Grade 12.
To be fair, a large part of this abundance is actually my grandmother’s fault. She buys in bulk, a slight woman who takes the bus to the market on a hot summer’s day. Wheeling a little trolley behind her, she haggles with the vendors in a mixture of Russian and Hebrew, oblivious to the fact most of them speak mainly Arabic. She is relentless and not afraid to drive a hard bargain, walking away from the best fruit simply because they won’t lower the price by 10 cents. She does most of the produce shopping for both her and my parents, buying enormous quantities of tomatoes and peppers that are often going limp before she even makes it home. She lugs everything back herself, with my grandfather occasionally meeting her at the bus stop for the last 10 minutes.
With this bounty of fruit and vegetables in her fridge, it is little wonder my mother rarely makes it through her crisper before the rot kicks in. When I am home, I make it my personal duty to clean out as much of it as I can. Playing with beautiful, taut-skinned peppers and perfectly ripe, juicy tomatoes is a joy and a wonder to this hardened Canadian, who treats each capsicum like it was a precious jewel. I love finding new ways to cook yams and eggplants, two of my mother’s favourite vegetables. I can even get excited about zucchini, if the season is right.
Therefore, I approach each family gathering and celebration with one goal in mind: to clear my mother’s fridge and cupboards. My menus are seasonal by chance, but mostly they are just a product of whatever was affordable in the market that week. Some weeks, I am straddled with four heads of cauliflower, its curls tightly wound in on themselves, or two cabbages, one of which is beginning to spot. Other weeks, I am faced with three loaves of white bread in a family that only eats dark, and even that in small quantities. And on special occasions, I am faced with a beautiful container of large, cup-sized mushrooms, perfectly suited for stuffing.
It was that scenario that brought me to this vegan stuffed mushroom recipe. Dairy- and grain-free, these appetizers are everything that traditional stuffed ‘shrooms are not: juicy, piquant, and full of fresh flavours. They arose from a look around a fridge full of the most disparate of products: gourmet sundried tomatoes, cheap tofu, and a brick of vegan cheese that my mother has bought to placate her lactose-intolerant daughter. The sundried tomatoes are soaked until they regain their puffed, chewy lustre, while the mushroom stems are chopped and cooked down until their juices flow, flavouring the textureless bean curd with the essence of umami. A splash of balsamic vinegar and a tossing of oregano and basil makes each mushroom a memorable, inspiring bite. My normally suspicious family ate them all within the first fifteen minutes, opting for seconds and thirds.
And the next day, my grandmother came back with two more containers of mushrooms.
- ½ cup of sundried tomatoes
- 1 purple onion
- 500 grams of white button, cremini, or portobella mashrooms
- 1 block of tofu (soft, firm, or extra firm are all good in this filling)
- 2 tsp salt
- pepper, to taste
- 1 tsp chili
- 1 Tb dry oregano (or 3 Tb fresh)
- 3 Tb fresh basil
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tsp balsamic/ red wine vinegar
- ¼ - ½ cup vegan cheese, grated, to top
- Soak sundried tomatoes in boiling water for 10-15 minutes, until they become soft again. Chop sundried tomatoes finely, but still allowing for their texture to come through.
- Remove mushroom stems and set aside. Clean mushrooms well (this depends on how you like to do it. Some use a pastry brush; others peel the 'shrooms. I like to wipe them clean with a wet paper towel. But I feel strongly against washing them - it ruins their texture). Chop stems finely, leave mushroom caps whole.
- Drain tofu and chop finely.
- Chop onion finely. Sauté until it becomes translucent, about five minutes. Add chopped mushroom stems and sauté another five minutes, until they start to give out juices. Add sundried tomatoes and tofu. Let cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat, letting the juices intermingle.
- Chop garlic and add. Add all spices, herbs and balsamic vinegar. Cook on medium-high heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring often, until mixture dries out a bit and the tofu colours.
- Preheat oven to 375F.
- Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Stuff mushrooms and arrange them on sheet. Top with grated vegan cheese. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
- Right before serving, broil/grill mushrooms at 400F for three minutes, to heat up the cheese. Sprinkle some chopped basil on top right before serving.